Everything I Know About Autism I Learned from Twitter

Autistic people, by and large, don’t like #AutismAwarenessWeek. I learned this from Twitter. I found out I was autistic about 18 months ago⏤big surprise⏤after a chance encounter with an autistic person. The main reason I went so long without knowing I was autistic is because autism awareness initiatives and training are in the main very bad: they are rarely led by autistic people and therefore end up presenting an ‘outside’ picture of what autism is which is confused and deeply othering. However, by connecting with other autistic people on Twitter I learned a lot. Below I have summarised some of my key takeaways. If you want to learn more about autism get yourself a Twitter account and follow advocates like @commaficionado and @lilririah.

  • Most autistics prefer identity-first language to person-first language. This means saying ‘autistic person’ as opposed to ‘person with autism’. Most autists despise the phrase ‘on the spectrum’.
  • Autism is a disability, not a special ability. Using the social model of disability, being autistic in a society set up for neurotypical people makes life difficult. It is fine to use the word disability. Please do not say ‘differently abled’⏤this is diminishing and underplays what disabled people have to contend with.
  • The puzzle-piece symbol is widely seen as being offensive; similarly, so is ‘lighting it up blue’⏤the rainbow infinity symbol is preferred.
  • If non-autistic people wish to advocate for autistic people they should do so using the allyship model: by lifting up the voices of autistic people and calling out ableism when they encounter it⏤and never talking over (or down) the experiences of autistic people.
  • Autistic children become autistic adults. There are probably as many autistic girls/women as boys/men, but they are less likely to be identified.
  • Autism is not an illness and thus has no ‘cure’; it is a developmental difference.
  • ABA therapy is seen as abusive by autistic people, akin to ‘treating’ someone for being gay.
  • About 50% of autistic people are LGBTQ+.
  • Autism is not a linear spectrum⏤one person is not more or less autistic than another, but rather have different support needs. All autistics are individuals and all have a unique blend of autistic traits.
  • Autism is not a superpower and Rainman is not a good representation: a very small percentage of autistic people have what is called savant syndrome (a set of special intellectual abilities) but most don’t⏤although many have special interests and an ability to focus, and thus learn well. Many academics are autistic, but autism doesn’t mean being good at maths…
  • Autistic people generally have good, and often heightened, empathy with others⏤including empathy with animals. However, autism does affect a person’s ability to read social cues, which has led to the myth that autists don’t connect with others or have a theory of mind.
  • Autism is not a mental illness, although many autistic people are mentally ill too.
  • Autism is not an intellectual disability, although many autistic people have an intellectual disability too.
  • Autistic people are likely to be incredibly sensitive to sensory input: strong lights, strong smells and loud noises can make us feel overwhelmed. Please listen if an autistic person tells you that the light is hurting them.
  • Black autistics often report feeling marginalised by the autistic community, which represents itself as overwhelmingly white. Black autistics are also disproportionately excluded from school⏤and arrested⏤due to the way racism means their autism is read. This is a serious issue and something the autistic community needs to tackle.
  • Depending on what study you read, autistic people are between 3 and 9 times more likely to attempt suicide than a member of the neurotypical population; autistic people have higher rates of depression and PTSD because it is hard being neurodivergent in a neurotypical world.
  • Only 22% of autistic adults are in paid employment (ONS, 2020). One of the main reasons is that ‘reasonable adjustments’ are not provided⏤a reasonable adjustment might be something like working from home or having an office which is free from noise.
  • Autistic people often like to move or fiddle with things to relieve stress; this is normal and usually harmless⏤it is called stimming.
  • Many autistic people are non-speaking or semi-speaking; this is not an indication of their agency or capacity.
  • Phone calls and social situations are often/usually difficult and draining.
  • Autistics are roughly 1% of the population, so everyone probably knows someone who is autistic.

I could go on, but I won’t. Please check out autistic Twitter⏤follow autistic people on Twitter⏤and help make #AutismAwarenessWeek a genuinely useful thing this year.

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