i autistic » Advocacy » Autism Awareness is a double-edged sword

Budding autism advocates, before you sally forth as a brave knight to slay the monsters of ignorance and ableism, please remember that awareness is a double-edged sword.

When everyone knows about autism, employers will be able to catch on to autistics who opt to hide their autism status to avoid discrimination. Insurance companies will explicitly add developmental disorders to their application forms, making it harder to get insured. Even something as routine as buying an airline ticket may require you to declare if you are autistic, which may affect the cost or impose limitations on your ability to travel.

The wrong type of awareness does even more harm than no awareness. Portraying autistics as psychopaths, perverts, mentally disturbed, or mentally deficient, severely worsens discrimination. Stories about successful autism cures (such as a concussion or brain tumour eliminating autism), autistics being geniuses, and autistics merely being socially shy etc. give people the wrong impression and ideas.

The wrong way of presenting awareness also does much harm. Portraying autistics as helpless people to be pitied, parents as suffering from autism (via their autistic child), autistics as cranky people to be tolerated rather than taken seriously, and autistics as only capable of performing menial/art/computer/whatever work changes how autistics are treated by our society at large.

Even when autism awareness is portrayed correctly, it can still potentially be problematic. For instance, bullies armed with the knowledge of how autistics function will know how best to torment their autistic victims without getting caught. Nasty employers will know how to subtly pressure their unwanted autistic staff to resign to avoid falling foul of anti-discrimination laws. Psychopaths and cheats will know who to prey upon.

Therefore, please tread carefully when you do your advocacy work. Knowledge in the wrong hands can be just as dangerous as ignorance.