Autism Acceptance Month: Become a Better Ally to the Autism Community

April 19, 2024

Learning to listen, amplify, and respect neurodiversity in our society.

Autism Acceptance Month is an opportunity to recognize the differences, strengths, and challenges that those in the autism community experience. It’s crucial to move beyond mere awareness and strive for genuine acceptance and celebration. Becoming an ally to the autism community involves embodying curiosity, kindness, and a willingness to learn. All of us can support in the work of creating a society that truly accepts and celebrates neurodiversity.

Although there is always more to learn, the following tips may help you on your path toward becoming an ally to the autism community.

Be thoughtful and respectful with your language.

The language of referring to those in the autism community is nuanced and it’s common for a person in the community to prefer certain kinds of phrasing over others. Many people in the autism community prefer identity-first language (i.e. “autistic person”), which acknowledges autism as an inextricable part of who a person is, not something that is separate from them.

Other people prefer person-first language (i.e. “person with autism”), as this phrasing avoids defining the person by their autism. It is best to simply ask the person you are referring to which kind of phrasing they prefer and be respectful of their preference on a case-by-case basis.

Disregard functional labels.

It’s common to refer to individuals with autism as existing on a spectrum that ranges from low-functioning to high-functioning. There has been backlash to this language from the autism community because autism is anything but linear. And the terms ‘low-functioning’ and ‘high-functioning.’ are fraught with implications. To label an individual as low-functioning may result in that person being perceived as incapable, while labeling an individual as high-functioning might create a barrier to helpful supports and services. By disregarding these labels, you steer clear of harmful stereotypes and take steps toward becoming a supportive ally.

Ask questions and listen.

Individuals in the autism community are best equipped to answer questions about themselves, their needs, and their perspectives. Asking questions that are clear and non-judgmental and listening deeply to the answers goes a long way toward communicating respect and learning to support an individual in the way that works best for them. However, it’s crucial to combine this approach with taking responsibility for doing your own research, as people in the autism community may not always be able or willing to answer every question you have, and that’s okay. The internet and local libraries have a plethora of resources available, many written by people in the autism community, that can help you understand potential answers to your questions.

Amplify the voices of the autism community.

As an ally, you may sometimes be drawn to educate others and speak for the autism community when you feel you know the answer to a question being discussed. While providing an educated perspective can be helpful, it’s more important to respect the voices of the autism community and avoid speaking over them. The people of the autism community can speak for themselves, and you can make this easier by standing by them, not in front of them. This can look like supporting organizations and efforts led by those in the autism community, sharing posts created by #actuallyautistic people online, and paying attention to their diverse perspectives, rather than assuming you know more about their experiences than they do.

Celebrate differences!

The differences that people in the autism community experience are just that: differences. Autism acceptance means actively celebrating people in the autism community and welcoming them into spaces where they can be seen and heard just as they are. Their stories and perspectives are meaningful, and by respecting each individual for who they are, you allow them the space to be themselves and thrive. Neurodiversity is a gift that, when accepted, can help all of us learn, grow, and thrive.

To learn more about how to be an effective autism ally, visit the articles below, which were used as references for this article, and seek out the voices of the autism community online by searching for the tag #ActuallyAutistic.

How To Be An Ally Of Autistic People from The Art of Autism

6 ways to become an autism ally from AssistiveWare

Autism Awareness Week: Hot to be an Ally from Disability Wales