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About the Author: Kathy Divine is the author of six books, founder of a print and digital magazine and a peer mentor to autistic teens and adults, based on her lived experience. She plays the drums for fun and sensory regulation.
What is Autistic Pride Day and how did it start?
Autistic Pride Day is celebrated on 18 June every year and was created by Aspies For Freedom (AFF). According to their website, Autistic Pride Day was created ‘…so that autistics can celebrate their neurodiversity and differences.’
Further to this, AFF suggests celebrating the day with family and friends (either online or in person) as a way to counter the negative perceptions in the media about autism. The celebrations on this day seek to rebalance these negative perceptions with positive events that happen worldwide.
What is Autistic Pride?
Autistic pride is about celebrating who you are. Your wonderful unique self. The rainbow infinity symbol is commonly used among autistic people to represent infinite possibilities and the diversity of expression among members of the autism community.
Each autistic person feels differently about autistic pride and will no doubt have their own definition of it. For me, it’s a day to fully express myself without concern, reflect on how far I’ve come in life and a day to do something fun, such as going to my favourite cafe. It’s kind of like having a second birthday. It’s carefree and joyful. It’s a day for me to forget about the struggles and embrace a joyful moment.
Autistic Pride Day is in the same month as LGBTQIA+ Pride Month. There is a large number of autistic people who are also part of the LGBTQIA+ community, so for these individuals, they are celebrating both. However, often they could also be experiencing the discrimination, stigma and resulting societal challenges that come from being both. This intersection is really significant.
Why is it important to celebrate Autistic Pride Day?
Autistic Pride Day is an important day of each year as one initiative among many that calls for more acceptance and inclusion of autistic people within the broader community. Through my work as a peer mentor, it’s clear that autistic people do not alway feel comfortable expressing their true selves completely, for fear of ridicule, discrimination and exclusion from many settings, including education, employment and social situations. We still have a long way to go as a society before we see autistic people being accepted for who they are.
Autistic people often ‘mask’, which means they cover up the full expression of their true selves, in order to attempt to fit in with other people. Masking is unhealthy because it cannot be sustained and can lead to poor health outcomes, such as chronic fatigue.
I was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 35 and up until that point, I was masking as a key survival mechanism. This was a major factor in causing chronic fatigue for me. After my diagnosis and gaining a better understanding of who I am, my fatigue levels decreased as I engaged in more self advocacy and self care, and expressed my true self more.
When an autistic person is free to express themselves without ridicule or discrimination, they are living a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life.
Having an annual pride day highlights the strengths and the unique qualities that each autistic person brings to their communities and assists the wider community in seeing that each expression of neurodiversity is valuable and valid.
A pride day for autistic people is a day for autistic people to celebrate themselves for exactly who they are while also increasing visibility of the autism community and changing the standard narratives and stereotypes.
Indeed, you should be so lucky to have an autistic person in your life, whether that’s as a friend, classmate, partner, sibling, parent or co-worker, for example.
How can you get involved in Autistic Pride Day?
If you know an autistic person, take the chance on Autistic Pride Day 2022 to let them know they are important and significant to you. Here are some ideas of what you could do for the autistic person in your life:
- Give them some genuine (non-condescending), positive feedback about themselves. This does wonders for self esteem and self confidence and shows that you’ve noticed something positive about them. In turn, it encourages them to be themselves and prevents masking (masking can lead to burn out, meltdowns and shutdowns, and in general, can lead to poor health outcomes, as mentioned above in my own story).
- Help them with ideas about how they might like to celebrate (if they want to celebrate), such as inviting them for lunch or doing something special for them so they feel valued and included. When approaching them with this idea, be aware that each autistic person has their own preferences and concepts about autistic pride. Be sensitive to where they are on their personal journey. It’s always a good idea to be very direct and state your intentions. Surprise parties are most likely not a good idea. This may be the first time your autistic friend or colleague has heard of the concept of autistic pride, so be gentle with your approach and work together to find an activity that they are comfortable with, that doesn’t overwhelm them.
- Assisting with meaningful employment opportunities can be an excellent way for you to show your support for autistic adults. If your autistic friend or family member is looking for an employment opportunity and you have some leads or contacts, mention their name to an employer and give them a reference. Obtaining meaningful employment can be a major issue for autistic people. By assisting with this, it illustrates that you care about their wellbeing but also shows that you regard them as a good candidate for the job. Again, this is a brilliant self esteem builder.
Autistic Pride Day 2022 is an opportunity for creating a positive day for autistic people where they shine brightly and express their unique selves fully without reservation.
Through Mable, thousands of Australians receive autism support each year. Autism support can look different for each individual. Thanks to the Autism 101 training that Mable offers to Independent Support Workers, anyone looking for autism support can find the kind of support they need.
Editor’s note: The author identifies with identify first language