How you can be an ally this Autism Awareness Month (and beyond)
April is National Autism Awareness Month—a month devoted to increasing one's understanding of people with autism. Autism is a widely misunderstood developmental disorder with a spectrum of symptoms that look different in each individual.
The month might be almost over, but that doesn't mean that we should stop honoring it. This month (and every month), we should celebrate the differences that neurodiversity provides to the world, and each and every one of us can listen to autistic voices and stories. Here's some advice on how to be a neurotypical ally during the year ahead.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder that affects an individual's social interactions, behaviors and perceptions. This disorder has a spectrum of symptoms, meaning that each autistic individual is uniquely different in their symptoms, experiences, weaknesses and strengths (as visualized in the diagram above.) You will never see two identical cases of autism. Many individuals with autism can present themselves as neurotypical, despite dealing with sensory sensitivities and other symptoms.
Some of the most harmful misconceptions about autism include (but are not limited to): thinking that autism is a disease/epidemic, believing autistic people do not feel emotion and/or are antisocial and spreading misinformation about vaccines causing autism. It is also worth noting that not all autistic people are antisocial. This misconception stems from the differences autistic individuals present when in social situations.
Most importantly, autism has countless positive traits. Autistic individuals (like Albert Einstein!) understand and process information in totally different ways. Many autistic individuals are also known to have a great memory, outstanding attention to detail and amazing concentration and observation skills. It is important to learn all you can about autism to be a true ally. This video below features teens with autism explaining their experiences from a neurodivergent perspective.
Allyship + action
Support legitimate organizations. Support advocacy organizations that are made by and for autistic people, like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), Association for Autistic Community and Communication First.
Pay attention to labels. Is the correct term "people with autism" or "autistic people?" Many medical professionals prefer the former, while autistic adults and those with autistic family members prefer to say "is autistic." Ask the autistic people in your life which terminology they prefer.
Have open communication with your autistic friends. Ask your autistic friends questions you have about the community. For example: Hey, I saw a TikTok where an autistic person talked about emotional regulation while on the spectrum. Can you explain to me a little more about what that means? You can also ask your friends how you can help them feel more comfortable in certain situations (i.e.We should go to this concert! In what ways can I help you handle the sensory experiences there?). Be the friend who is there to listen to, support and hear what they are saying and help in whatever way you can.
Lend your neurodivergent friends a fidget toy. Pack a Tangle or stress ball in your pencil case to lend to a neurodivergent friend who might be in need of a sensory distraction. If you see a friend acting fidgety (they might have shaky hands or a jumpy leg) quietly ask them if they'd like to play with your sensory toy for a while. Do not pressure them if you decline the offer—your autistic friend knows what they need and when.
Listen to autistic voices
When you are an ally, you are standing beside the group you are supporting. In this case, you're showing your support for the autistic community, and *those* are the voices that should be heard and encouraged when discussing autistic issues. A good rule in allyship is to listen—uplift the voices of that specific community rather than speak over them, even if your intentions and goals are aligned. A true neurotypical ally empowers and aids autistic individuals and is always looking for new ways to learn from others. Here's to allyship!
Check out these related posts!
🧩 Jada Braxton is breaking barriers for girls with autism
🧩 My brother has autism—here's what you should know
🧩 How to be a good ally to the LGBTQ+ community