It is May.
April is over, and after the dreadful “awareness” campaigns, after all the clueless people – in some cases plain hurtful people – giddy about blue lights, after Autism Speaks once again spread the hateful rhetoric about us, after Autism Speaks collected money from people who walked in circles that led them nowhere, after companies partnered with Autism Speaks in silencing Actually Autistic voices, April is finally over.
We will see the consequences of the “beware of autism” campaigns all year long. Since awareness = beware of = fear = “autism is a problem”, we are already/still seeing very young Autistic kids being arrested, in handcuffs and shackles, charged with felony, all because they had a meltdown (usually caused by failures of the neurotypical adults around the child).
But it is May.
May is about Autism Positivity.
More people are listening to Actually Autistic voices.
More people are not afraid of learning from us.
One example that made me squee came from television, and expanded to social media. I have never seen this happen before. Autistic characters have always been caricatures, a product of the “awareness” campaigns. And actors have been mostly unresponsive to us, they have usually followed the lead of the big media savvy Autism Speaks.
I am not a big TV fan but if I see something I like, I do watch and I saw not one, but two awesome Autistic characters on TV.
In one show, the main character was Autistic. He was a prodigy, he stimmed with a ball in public, he had meltdowns.
He was also lovely, affectionate, empathic, and sometimes confused about his emotions.
He had a romantic/sexual relationship, you know, as many people do.
The character was not a caricature, he was Actually Autistic. He was human, like all Autistics are.
The credit goes to actor Gavin Stenhouse, who did what should be common sense: he reached out and learned from Actually Autistic people for the part.
He is also a sweetheart, very accessible and responsive to fans on Twitter.
He went all in when asked to join the #WalkInRed hashtag in support of Autism Acceptance. He took pictures and tweeted them.
When he tweeted #LIUB (Autism Speaks “Light It Up Blue”), we asked him to not do it. He read about our reasons, and deleted the tweet.
He heard us, he joined us. Acceptance and Respect.
A positive portrayal of autism, an actor who is accepting.
The other show also had an Autistic main character. The actor on this show was Ashley Zukerman. The character was a hacker who had extreme sensory overload, huge meltdowns, and who was not considered capable of making his own decisions.
I loved how this one character debunks the silliness of functioning labels. The actor showed us a character with a wide range of needs and unique assets that is what we all experience in our lives. He needed some accommodations, and he needed space. He needed to be accepted and respected.
More Autism Positivity. No caricatures.
I think this is important and I thanked them both for that. TV is mass media and, in the same way the proponents of “beware of autism” send subliminal messages that scare people, positive messages can also reach TV viewers.
Something even more awesome: Autistic actors on stage, using autism as their best asset, like actor Mickey Rowe. Autism Positivity in the performing arts!
It is May!
We are moving forward, towards acceptance. It is sometimes frustrating and slow but along the way we collect positivity, we celebrate them.
Acceptance and #AutismPositivity.
I know many people want to see disabled actors playing disabled characters. I do too.
I will, however, celebrate any Autistic character that is realistic and not based on assumptions, stereotypes or portrayed through the lens of normalization.
If the actors do their research and seek our input, if they are respectful and open, I will celebrate them.
Furthermore, some actors may be neurodivergent or Autistic. Unless they confirm or deny, we don’t really know about their neurology.
If they spread Autism Positivity, I will celebrate.
Gavin Stenhouse Twitter account: https://twitter.com/gavinstenhouse (check his pictures)
Show was “Allegiance”, it has been cancelled but I think it is still available online
This interview is great (acceptance and identity-first language) http://starrymag.com/?p=5591
Ashley Zukerman Twitter account: https://twitter.com/ashzukerman
Miniseries was “The Code”, on Netflix
Actor Mickey Rowe Twitter account: https://twitter.com/MickeyIsaacRowe
About the Author, Amy Sequenzia