It’s nearly April which means it’s nearly time for the month where everyone changes their profile pictures blue & supposedly supports autistic people. On behalf of the autistic community, if you would like to show solidarity or support to us, please do not ‘Light It Up Blue’, go #RedInstead this year.
‘Light It Up Blue’ is a slogan used by the American organisation Autism Speaks whose campaigns have been negative & problematic to autistic people.
- The 2009 short film “I Am Autism” demonises autism & portrays autism as a curse that ruins families. The film is so upsetting that some autistic people, including myself cannot even read the transcript.
- In 2006, an Executive stated in a video that she had thought about driving herself & her autistic daughter off a cliff. The only reason she didn’t was because she had an allistic child.
- Only 4% of their budget goes towards helping autistic people & their families, in contrast 22% goes towards fundraising efforts & some staff salaries exceed $395,000 a year. A large portion of their budget also goes towards finding a ‘cure’ for autism as well as a pre natal test so that women can choose not to have an autistic baby.
- Until recently, there had been no autistic people on the Board of Directors. How can a charity claim to support autistic people if they don’t listen to us?
It is for these reasons that most autistic people separate themselves from Autism Speaks. In 2013, autistic author John Elder resigned from his position at Autism Speaks. He claimed in a letter that the organisations portrayal of autism was doing more harm than good.
The colour blue is historically associated with negative emotions such as despair, loss & grief.
- In Greek mythology, the Greek God Zeus would make it rain when he was sad & create a storm when angry
- Poet Geoffrey Chaucer associated blue with tears in line 9 of his 1385 poem “The Complaints of Mars”
- Dictionary of Americanisms (1848) defines blue to mean ‘gloomy, severe’
- A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) defines blue devils to mean ‘low spirits’
This association is still present now: for example, when people are sad they are ‘feeling blue’, in art & literature the sun portrays happiness whilst rain portrays sadness.
The use of the colour blue emphasises the false idea that autism is a tragedy & some sort of disease. Something that autistic people do not believe. In contrast, red is a colour that symbolises fire, passion & love which unsurprisingly the majority of the autistic community prefer to be associated with.
The colour blue is also stereotypically associated with ‘boys’ which perpetuates the false belief that only males are autistic. *Note that this association is extremely sexist & outdated; something that I do not believe in*
Yes, but this is widely debatable as the diagnostic criteria is actually biased towards the classic ‘boy behaviour’. Autistic girls tend to go undiagnosed or with a misdiagnosis for a very long time for this reason. Also, if/when we are diagnosed, we are often deemed not autistic simply because of our gender.
The puzzle piece was originally used by the National Autistic Society in 1963 as a symbol for autism (it is no longer used now though). It was then popularised by the American organisation Autism Speaks and a blue puzzle piece is their current logo. The puzzle piece is viewed to be problematic & harmful by the autistic community:
- Depicts autism as something that only impacts children
- Reminds people of Autism Speaks & their awareness campaigns
- Promotes a cure for autism… for example the popular slogan “until the pieces fit”
- Represents the negativity not the positive perspective of autism. It suggests that autistic people have something missing & aren’t complete.
As a community we prefer the infinity symbol. This portrays the different spectrum of needs and experiences of autistic people as well as the diversity. It also emphasises the idea that autism is not a linear spectrum & you aren’t either “high or low functioning”.
Awareness vs Acceptance
I get it… ‘lighting it up blue’ and posting on social media increases ‘awareness’ about autism but I can guarantee that most people nowadays are aware of autism. Most people know we exist but that doesn’t stop our community from being discriminated against.
Autism Acceptance means embracing and accepting autism. It’s about recognising that we are members of the human community, and just as deserving of basic human rights. It also involves centring autistic voices, rather than marginalising and ignoring us, as awareness campaigns usually do.
The autistic community deserves more than just awareness and pity. We deserve to be listened to, heard and respected. We deserve acceptance.
Red Instead shows your alliance & support to the autistic community. Words and colours might not seem to mean much to you, but they represent a perspective which increases discrimination against us in society. It’s time to shift to autism acceptance, as well as throwing away slogans & colours from an era that was not kind to autistic people.
This Autism Acceptance Month:
- Donate to Autistic Led Organisations such as: Autistic Women & Non Binary Network, Autistic People of Colour Fund, Autistic Self Advocacy Network
- Go Red Instead
- Listen to autistic people & our lived experiences, amplify our voices
- Use the infinity symbol instead of the puzzle piece
- Do not stop after April. Autism does not disappear after a month, we need acceptance & understanding everyday