3 Ways to Experience Autistic Culture

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Are you autistic, or is one of your loved ones on the spectrum? Do you feel lonely, or do you want to learn more about autism? Introducing yourself to autistic culture is a great way to educate yourself and find companionship.

Experiencing the Culture

Realize that autistic people make autistic culture—neurotypicals don’t. If autistic people don’t have a clear voice in an autism organization or event, then it is probably not a good place to find other autistic people. It may also be a source of inaccurate, pitying, or hateful material.
  • If an organization is run partially or completely by autistic people, its about page will usually say so.
  • See if it is partnered with any autistic-run organizations.
  • Autistic-run support groups may be more difficult to find, and you may need to rely upon word of mouth regarding which one is best.
Find autistic people on social networking. The hashtags #actuallyautistic and #askanautistic were created specifically for autistic people, and you can find them there.
Find prominent voices in the autistic community. The autistic community is full of wise, compassionate, and educated people. Here are some examples of well-known writers and blogs:
  • Cynthia Kim
  • Amy Sequenzia
  • Ari Ne’eman
  • Emma’s Hope Book (Note: Emma’s parents are not described as autistic; however, they are educated and well-regarded in the community)
  • Jim Sinclair
  • Lydia Brown
Participate in autism-related events. Look for walks, charity fundraisers, pride festivals, and more.
  • Always research an event before participating in it. Some events are run by harmful organizations.[1]
Learn the language. Autistic people use a unique set of terminology to discuss autism-related issues and experiences. Here are some example terms:
  • Stimming: Repetitive motions such as rocking, hand flapping, echolalia, and more.[2] Useful for coping, and self-expression (like a smile).[3]
  • Identity-first language: “Autistic person” rather than “person with autism.” Argues that autism is not a terrible thing, no more than “Asian person.” Preferred by most autistic people.[4][5][6]
  • Curebie: a person who believes that autism should be cured. Derogatory, since most autistic people believe in therapy and acceptance instead.[7][8]
  • Neurotypical/NT: non-autistic, and also without any other neurological issues[9]
  • Allistic: non-autistic, though not necessarily neurotypical.[10]
  • Neurodiversity: the idea that neurologically disabled people are a minority, and deserve acceptance and respect[11]
Learn the terms to avoid. Some autism language is considered insulting or outdated.
  • High/Low-Functioning:[12][13] It’s considered rude to put people in boxes, especially since they may be skilled in some areas and significantly impaired in others.[14][15]
  • Person with autism: Disliked by the autistic community in general because it implies that autism is separate from a person, and that it is antithetical to humanity.[16][17] Only use this to describe someone if it is their personal preference.[18]
  • Suffering from autism: Many autistic people are not suffering.[19] They have challenges, but so does everyone, and they consider themselves all right.[20]
  • Autism epidemic:[21] Autism doesn’t kill people, and it is not communicable.
Listen to how autistic people describe autism. Some descriptions of autism are inaccurate, because they are written by people who don’t really understand autism, or they are motivated by a desire to control autistic people. Autistic people tend to paint a more factual and accepting picture.
Mark autism events on your calendar.
  • Autism Acceptance Month: every April[22]
  • Autistic Pride Day: June 18

Tips For Allies

Special tips for neurotypical people who would like to be an ally or learn more about autism

Realize that it is okay to join most discussions. You may want to comment to show your appreciation, or ask questions. The autistic community is an autistic place, but friendly visitors are always welcome.
  • It is okay to share articles or reblog things you found in the #actuallyautistic tag. (You may wish to mention that you aren’t autistic, though, so people don’t get confused.)
  • It’s okay to say that an article helped you, or that you agree.
  • It’s okay to ask questions. However, autistic people are not search engines, so they are not obligated to provide an answer.
  • Remember, there are plenty of allies who participate in discussions and write autism-related posts!
Use a search engine for basic questions. While plenty of autistic people are happy to help, some questions (“Do autistic people have bellybuttons too?”) seem a little obvious or demeaning. If you have a question, search the internet for a few minutes first, because the answer might be readily available.
Be aware of general etiquette. Like all subcultures, the autistic community has some unwritten etiquette guidelines. Here some insider tips regarding things to avoid:
  • Posting in the #actuallyautistic tag (It was developed specifically for autistic people to discuss things.Neurotypicals can post in the #autism tag.)
  • Speaking of autism as a scourge to be eliminated
  • Taking venting personally (When someone says “I hate when NTs talk over me!” they are not talking specifically about you, and it’s rude to interject “Not all NTs!”)
  • Pretending to understand autistic people’s minds better than they do
Don’t be afraid to help out! Allies are welcome, and autistic people can always use a hand in organizing events, finding resources, or simply educating the community. If you see autistic people organizing something, feel free to ask “Can I help?” or “May I join you?”
Look for resources written for neurotypicals. Some autistic writers have articles written specifically for how you can help your loved ones and be a great ally. Never be afraid to ask for tips!


Avoiding Gaslighting and Cruelty

There is a dark side to autism discussions in the community: many autistic people have been mistreated, abused, and silenced. It is important for allies to be aware of this, and to use basic human decency.

Recognize that many autistic people have had bad experiences. Some of them have led to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Remember to be considerate of the following:
  • Some parents have silenced autistic people, or attempted to control them. A few autistic people have become wary of “autism parents” as a result of this.
  • They may be used to hearing that their pain isn’t real.
  • Their therapists may have abused them.
  • They may have been told that they are “too high-functioning” to need accommodations or understand “real autism,”or that they are “too low-functioning” to amount to anything.
  • They may have been called strange, needy, or embarrassing by their loved ones.
Be compassionate when they discuss their hardships, and never gaslight.Gaslighting means stating that others’ experiences aren’t real or that their feelings are overreactions, and it has happened to many autistic people. Here are some examples of helpful things to say and hurtful things not to say:
  • Helpful:
    • “I’m really sorry to hear that this happened to you. That sounds terrible.”
    • “Thanks for writing about the dangers of ABA therapy. I haven’t personally encountered anything like this, but I’ll make sure to be careful when choosing therapists for my son.”
    • “Reading this article made me realize that these things do happen to my daughter in therapy, and it’s probably why she’s been so tearful and anxious lately. I’ll start searching for a new therapist for her right away. Thank you for the wake-up call.”
  • Hurtful/Gaslighting:
    • “Autistic people aren’t actually excluded from the autism discourse.”
    • “Stop complaining already. Nobody is trying to hurt you.”
    • “Autistic people never get abused by their therapists. Stop whining!”
    • “Well, this therapy worked for ME” (implying that it must work for everyone, and that the person’s horrible experience isn’t significant or worth considering)
Remember that autistic people are people too. If you treat them with compassion and respect, presuming competence and listening to them, they will respond well to you. If you are kind, it’s hard to go wrong.

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