For me, Autism Acceptance Week is an opportunity to make autistic voices heard and to acknowledge the reality of marginalisation that autistic people experience on a daily basis.
I’ll start by giving a personal story. I’m autistic, and am lucky to have had a medical diagnosis since the age of 4. Most people aren’t that lucky, and there still remains a gender bias against young autistic women. However, diagnosis was only the start. At primary school the struggles I faced ranged from refusal to give me necessary support to outright ableism from teachers and school staff. Many of these experiences, all before the age of 8, can be described as traumatic and still affect me to this day.
Above all else, this shows two things. A lack of understanding, and a lack of acceptance. I was treated as someone with ‘behavioural issues’, when in actuality, I found the school day to be overwhelming and simply couldn’t cope emotionally. I didn’t conform to neurotypical expectations, not through disobedience, but just because my brain doesn’t work that way. And being different was seen as an issue, something to be looked down upon.
I am far from the only autistic person to experience ableism and marginalisation, and this isn’t restricted to an educational setting. Everyday, me and other autistic people I know face a society that isn’t built for us. I won’t go into details because every autistic person is very different - the idea that ‘all autistic people do x’ is simply untrue.
But still we face people making assumptions about us, trying to act on our behalf, infantilising us and gaslighting us. For me, my way of coping with these issues is found in our party, and activism is where we make a difference. Last year at Edinburgh Conference, I was especially proud to propose and pass the Young Liberals policy ‘Education for Everyone: Resolving the SEN Crisis’. While education is only one area autistic people face marginalisation, this policy is a huge step towards ending ableism in education. I am proud of how YL celebrates autistic and neurodivergent individuals for who we are.
In a world disabled people are facing more and more prejudice, the Liberal Democrats are the party that seeks to end discrimination in all its’ forms. Practically speaking, there’s a lot that neurotypicals can do to promote autistic acceptance:
Listen to autistic voices and autistic-led organisations, oppose harmful measures such as ABA or symbols such as the puzzle piece.
Challenge your unconscious bias and avoid looking down at autistic people; instead treat us as equals.
Don’t brand us as an ‘Other’, instead remember that we are diverse and unique.
As disabled representative, I hope to continue to promote diversity within YL and the wider party. Acceptance and visibility are huge issues faced by not only autistic people but the disabled community in general, but it remains the responsibility of society to make a change.