Our Motto: What is “Nothing About Us Without Us”?
“Nothing About Us Without Us” means that autistic people need to be involved whenever autism is discussed. When non-autistic people make decisions about autism without Autistic input, those decisions are usually bad. This makes it harder for us to get by in the world. Decisions about autism need to be made with autistic people. That way, we can make policies that help us live our lives, and teach people how to be understanding and supportive of the autistic community.
This page outlines what ASAN thinks about many different topics related to autism. You can read more about each topic below:
Neurodiversity and Disability Rights
What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity means that no two brains are exactly the same. Every person has things they are good at and things they need help with, and there is no such thing as a “normal” brain. The neurodiversity movement says that people with brain-based disabilities (like autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, or mental health disabilities) should be accepted and included in society just like neurotypical people (people without brain-based disabilities). The neurodiversity movement also says that we shouldn’t try to cure or get rid of autism. Autistic people should be allowed to exist, and we should work to make sure that everyone gets the accommodations we need to reach our full potential. ASAN believes in the ideas of the neurodiversity movement, and works to make sure all autistic people are celebrated for our differences instead of excluded.
Autism is a Disability
Autism is a developmental disability. It affects many things about the way we learn, move, communicate, and experience the world. Disability is a natural part of human diversity. However, our society is set up in a way that excludes people with disabilities, including autistic people. Our society says that disability is the problem, and that the solution is to cure the disability, or to try and make the person “less disabled”. The disability rights movement says that people with disabilities are not the problem. Instead, society is the problem when it does not accommodate people with disabilities. ASAN believes that instead of trying to change disabled people, we should work to make sure people with disabilities can access what we need.
ASAN is Part of the Disability Rights Movement
ASAN is a part of the disability rights movement. The disability rights movement works to make sure that disabled people have equal opportunities, get the supports that we need, and can participate in all areas of society. All of these things are important for autistic people. ASAN is a cross-disability organization, which means that we don’t just focus on autism. We work to make sure society is accessible and inclusive to people with all disabilities. The disability rights movement has a long history that started long before ASAN. We are proud to work with many communities who share these values and common goals.Many autistic people have intellectual disabilities. The autistic self-advocacy movement would not exist without the work of the self-advocacy movement started by people with intellectual disabilities. We take pride in that history, and we see our work as a continuing part of that movement. We aim to center the voices of autistic people with intellectual disabilities in our advocacy. One way we do this is by making resources in plain language and Easy to Read, so every autistic person can understand the information that impacts our lives.
Disability Rights are Civil Rights
The disability rights movement is one part of the larger civil rights movement. Many communities, like the LGBTQ community, women, and communities of color, have fought and are still fighting for their rights. Disabled people are a part of every community. When disabled people don’t have our rights, that hurts every community. At the same time, when any community is harmed, disabled people are harmed too. That is why we all need to work together to fight for our rights. We can’t leave anyone behind, or it will be harder for all of us. Disability rights are civil rights, and civil rights are disability rights.
Autistic Research Should Help Autistic People
Scientists who do autism research should listen to autistic people. They should work with us to make sure we are okay with the research they want to do.
More scientists should do community-based participatory research. CBPR is a kind of research where members of the community help make the research projects that are about us. Researchers and the autistic community can work together to help make our lives better.
What is Self-advocacy?
Self-advocacy means taking control of our own lives. That can mean making choices about how we live our lives, like choosing what we do at home, at school, at work, or in our relationships. It can also mean working as a community to take control over how society views disabled people, how the media talks about us, and policies that affect our lives. ASAN works on both types of self-advocacy. We want to make sure that autistic people are included in all conversations about autism, whether those conversations are about our own lives or about autistic people as a whole in our society.
Self-advocacy is for Everybody
Every disabled person is a self-advocate. There is no such thing as being “too disabled” to be a self-advocate. There are chances every day to self-advocate. Even saying “No!” with your words or your actions is a kind of self-advocacy. We think everyone should get the tools they need to learn about all kinds of advocacy. Nobody should be denied the right to make their own choices just because of their disability.
We Have the Right to Make Choices
Neurodiversity and self-advocacy don’t mean that autistic people can do everything by ourselves. Everyone needs help from other people to live our lives, whether you have a disability or not. Some autistic people need more support than others to get what we need. No matter how much help we need, we should be able to make our own choices. ASAN believes the right to make choices is an important civil right.
Sometimes, disabled people are placed under guardianship, which means someone else (like a parent) gets to make choices for that person. We believe this is wrong. Guardianship takes choices away from disabled people. Guardians could end up making choices for us that we don’t want. Instead, we believe in supported decision-making. Supported decision-making is when a disabled person works with a group of people they trust to make choices about their life. It lets disabled people have control over our lives, but still get help when we need it. ASAN supports laws and policies that get people out of guardianship. We are working to build a world where people get support and make their own decisions.
Communication is a human right. Not every autistic person can talk, but every autistic person communicates in our own way. Some autistic people need support to communicate, like Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). AAC is a way to communicate without talking, like using picture cards, a letter board, or typing on an iPad. Autistic people need to get communication supports right away, no matter what other things we can or can’t do. People should never have to “earn” the right to communication supports. We need to make sure AAC is available for all autistic people, and that autistic people are supported to communicate in the way that works best for them.
We are the Experts
As autistic people, we know more about autism than anyone else. We know the problems that autistic people face, and have lots of ideas about how to solve them. Some non-autistic people say they are “autism experts,” and try to make policies about autism without talking to autistic people ourselves. These policies usually don’t help us, and sometimes even make things worse for us. That is why autistic people have to be involved in making policy. We have a right to have our voices heard in the national conversation about us. There are no exceptions.
We have the Right to Vote
A big part of making policies is voting. We can vote on specific policies, or vote to elect people to make policies we want. Sometimes, states make it harder for disabled people to vote. Voting places may be inaccessible, or disabled people under guardianship may not be allowed to vote. ASAN believes everyone has the right to vote. We work to make sure that we can all vote.
The Autistic Community
We are One Community
When we say “the autistic community”, we mean everyone who is autistic. We mean:
- Autistic people who need a lot of support in their day-to-day life, and autistic people who need very little support.
- Autistic people who can speak, and autistic people who are nonspeaking.
- Autistic people who also have an intellectual disability, and autistic people who don’t.
- Autistic people who have other disabilities besides autism, and autistic people who don’t.
- Autistic people who were diagnosed by a doctor, and autistic people who figured out they were autistic on their own.
- We are all a part of the autistic community, and we have to work together to make sure all of us have our voices heard. Every autistic person belongs in the autistic community. There is no “wrong” way to be autistic. Trying to separate certain groups of autistic people from the autistic community hurts all of us.
Functioning Labels are Harmful
ASAN doesn’t use labels like “high-functioning” and “low-functioning”. Functioning labels aren’t a good way to think about autism. We all have things we are good at and things we need help with. Using functioning labels makes it harder for us to get the help we need, and for us to make the choices we want. Instead, we should talk about people as individuals. Talk about what someone is good at, and what they need help with. This makes sure we can get what we need.
Not All Autistic People are Diagnosed
Whether an autistic person has an autism diagnosis from a doctor or not, they are still a part of the autistic community. It can be really hard to get an autism diagnosis, especially for people of color, women and girls, trans and nonbinary people, and people who figured out they are autistic when they were an adult. It can cost a lot of money, or a doctor may have the wrong ideas about autism and not want to give someone a diagnosis. Some people just don’t want a diagnosis, and that is okay, too. When ASAN says “the autistic community”, we include everyone, whether they have a diagnosis or not.
Changing How People Think About Autism
Ending Myths and Stereotypes
Many people have the wrong ideas about autism. Lots of the information about autism in the media, on the internet, or from doctors, makes autism look like a scary, bad thing that “happens” to us. This makes it harder for autistic people to live our lives. It makes people think it is okay to hurt us or keep us separated from non-disabled people. ASAN works to make sure people understand that autism isn’t a bad thing. Autism is a developmental disability — and disability is a natural part of human diversity. Autism is something we are born with, and that shouldn’t be changed. Autistic children should get the support they need to grow up into happy, self-determined autistic adults.
A lot of autism organizations focus on raising “awareness” of autism. Autism awareness campaigns can make people afraid of autism. They treat autistic people like burdens on society, and ask people to donate money to get rid of autism. It isn’t fair to autistic people to raise money by making people scared of us. That isn’t a good way to raise “awareness” of autism.
ASAN thinks people should learn more about autism. But people need to learn what autistic people ourselves want them to know. That is why ASAN talks about autism acceptance instead of autism awareness. To learn more about autism acceptance, go to AutismAcceptanceMonth.com
Autism in the Media
When autistic people are shown in books, on tv, or in the movies, we usually look the same: a white boy or young man who makes things more difficult for everyone else around him. These portrayals aren’t fair to our community. They erase the voices of autistic people who aren’t white and male, make people think that only kids can be autistic, and make people think autistic people only make life more difficult for neurotypicals. In the real world, autistic people are all different races and genders, and we have rich, fulfilling lives that we share with the people around us. We need lots of different kinds of autistic people to be in the media. We need autistic people to help make autistic characters in the media, and tell our own stories.
The Right to Have a Family
Some people think that because we are autistic, we shouldn’t be allowed to date, get married, or have kids. They think that because we are autistic, we can’t understand things like marriage and sex. In history, a lot of people with disabilities were sterilized because of their disability. This means our bodies were changed so we couldn’t have children. This can still happen today. Many people still think that disabled people shouldn’t have families. ASAN believes that every autistic person has the right to find love, marry, have sex, and have children.
Some doctors say that autistic people damage our families because we are autistic. They say that our parents get divorced because we are autistic. They say we can’t have healthy relationships with our partners or children. They tell our partners that they should blame our autism for problems in our relationships. There is no actual research to back these ideas up. We know these ideas are wrong, but people believe them anyway. People have used these ideas to say that autistic people can’t take care of our kids. This is wrong, and needs to stop. We need to make laws that make sure autistic people don’t have our kids taken away from us because we are autistic.
We All Learn Best Together
Many schools have segregated classrooms for students with disabilities. This means that disabled kids are taught separately from non-disabled kids. Separate classrooms don’t help disabled people. Disabled students get treated badly when they are kept separate from non-disabled students. Research shows that disabled students also learn less in segregated classrooms than in inclusive classrooms. There is no reason to keep disabled kids in segregated classrooms.
We work to make sure that disabled students are taught in inclusive classrooms: the same classrooms as non-disabled students. Having inclusive classrooms helps create inclusive communities, jobs, and housing. Non-disabled students learn that disabled students should always be together with them. This affects how disabled kids are treated when they grow up. Inclusive classrooms make life better for disabled people, and for everyone else.
Working with Teachers
Inclusion is not just being in the same room as everybody else. Some students may need more support than others to be truly included in their classroom. It isn’t enough to just put a disabled student in a class of non-disabled students. We need to make sure they have the tools they need to succeed. Schools need to put money into resources to make inclusion work. We also need to train teachers to work with disabled and non-disabled students together, so they are prepared to meet the needs of all their students.
Teachers also need to take a stand against bullying in their classrooms. It can be hard for autistic and disabled people to make friends in school, especially when they get picked on because of who they are. When teachers show that disabled kids are great just the way they are, non-disabled students are more likely to be their friend. When teachers show that bullying is never okay, kids will be less likely to bully.
No More Abuse at School
Sometimes, teachers will hurt disabled kids. They might do things like hit them, hold them down, or put them in a closet and lock the door. The teacher doesn’t always get in trouble for hurting disabled kids. Sometimes, people even say it is okay to hurt disabled kids, because they are disabled. We need to make sure that teachers know that hurting disabled kids is never okay. We need to make sure teachers get in trouble if they ever hurt one of their students. We need to make sure that restraint and seclusion are never seen as okay things to do.
Not every disabled kid can say when a teacher is hurting them. Some people say that we should put video cameras in classrooms for disabled kids. That way, people will know when a kid gets hurt by a teacher. But this is a bad idea. Kids deserve privacy, and being disabled doesn’t change that. Non-disabled kids wouldn’t like being watched all day at school. Disabled kids shouldn’t have to either. Instead, we need to make environments that keep people from being hurt. A good way to do this is having non-disabled students in the same classrooms as disabled students, who can speak up if a disabled student gets hurt.
No More Aversives
Some schools use things called “aversives” on disabled kids. This is when a teacher hurts a student to make the student do or not do something. One example is the electric shock devices used at the Judge Rotenberg Center. These devices shock a student if the student breaks a rule. Aversives are not a good way to teach disabled students. There is no reason to use them on disabled kids. ASAN thinks aversives are abuse, and should never be used.
Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline
The school-to-prison pipeline is a phrase policymakers use to talk about when students end up in prison because of how they get treated in school. Schools can treat students like they are “bad” instead of helping them. They can put students in locked rooms, suspend them, expel them, or even arrest them at school. This makes them more likely to end up in prison. This pattern mostly affects students of color and students with disabilities.
Another problem is that students of color are more likely to get certain diagnoses, like intellectual disability, and less likely to get other diagnoses, like autism. They are also more likely to be taken out of mainstream classrooms. This means that they aren’t getting the right kind of services and education. Sometimes, schools use special education to punish students of color. That’s not what special education is for. Disabled students of color should get what they need to succeed, instead of being punished and arrested.
Some schools think disabled students are a threat. They think that they need to violate our privacy to keep people safe. This can include making us give them information that we want to keep private. It can also mean giving information about our disability services, mental health diagnoses, and social media to the police. This is another part of the school-to-prison pipeline. Nobody should have to give up their right to privacy just to go to school.
All disabled students should get the chance to go to college. College helps teach young adults about how to live independently. It also teaches important skills for jobs. Colleges should make sure they have the resources to support students with disabilities. They should offer programs to make sure disabled students succeed. These programs should make sure disabled students are in the same classes and social spaces as non-disabled students. ASAN supports programs like TPSIDs (Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities), that let more students with disabilities get the support they need to go to college. The government should put more money into making TPSID programs at more colleges.
Autistic people can have a hard time finding jobs. We may not get the support we need to do the jobs we want. Employers may have the wrong ideas about autism, so they might not want to hire autistic people. Job interviews can be really hard for autistic people who have trouble talking or making eye contact. We need to make sure that employers know how to support us, whether that is during the hiring process or after we get the job. We have the right to get support at our jobs. It is illegal for jobs to discriminate against us because of our disability, and we need to make sure those laws are enforced.
Services for Autistic Workers
Some autistic people need help getting and keeping a job. We may need things like job coaching or help writing a resume to get a job. Once we get a job, we may need accommodations like a daily work agenda with pictures, a consistent job schedule, or someone to help us with our job throughout the day. The government should support programs that help autistic people get and keep jobs. These programs should work with autistic people to figure out what kinds of jobs we want, and how we can do them. The government should also help us with other services that are important to keeping a job. For example, making sure cities have a good public transportation system will help people get and keep jobs, especially disabled people who don’t drive.
Some companies run places called “sheltered workshops”. These places keep disabled workers separate from non-disabled people. They usually get paid less than minimum wage for their work. It is hard to get promoted, and people get stuck doing the same thing. ASAN does not think sheltered workshops should be used for any reason. We think that every disabled person deserves to be paid well for our work. ASAN supports jobs and laws that give disabled people real work for real pay.
Other companies have started that pay minimum wage, but still only hire autistic people. These kinds of jobs keep us separate from our community. Any job that keeps us away from non-disabled people isn’t fair to us. When a disabled person starts their own business, that’s a good thing. But most of the time, these companies are started by non-disabled people. Non-disabled people are in charge. The disabled workers don’t get a chance to move up in the company, and usually don’t get paid well. That is why these companies are not a good idea. They are just another kind of sheltered workshop.
Money and Support Programs
Nobody should have to live in poverty. Compared to non-disabled people, a lot of disabled people live in poverty. The government needs to support programs that make sure disabled people have the money we need to survive. This includes programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help us cover food costs.
Social Security is an important program that gives disabled people money to cover our day-to-day needs. It can help us pay for food, housing, transportation, and more. Social Security can get taken away from people if they save too much money, or make too much money from working. But the amount that the government calls “too much money” isn’t even enough to get by. This traps people in poverty. Disabled people need to be allowed to earn and save money while keeping our benefits.
Social Security can also get taken away from disabled people if two disabled people get married or move in together. This isn’t fair to disabled people. It keeps us from getting married like everyone else. Disabled people should be allowed to keep our benefits when we get married.
Health Care Should Not Be Tied to Income
Medicaid covers health care costs for disabled people. Like Social Security, people can lose their Medicaid if they make too much money. Disabled people usually need a lot of health care. Even if a disabled person could work full-time, they might not be able to cover their health care costs without Medicaid. Medicaid also pays for certain kinds of care that disabled people need, but other health insurance won’t pay for, like community living services. The government needs to let disabled people get Medicaid while making money. We shouldn’t have to choose between health care or having a job.
Help Should Not be Tied to Work
Some people in the government say that people should have to work to get benefits. This idea is called “work requirements”. Work requirements mean that people who don’t work lose their benefits. Work requirements aren’t supposed to apply to people with disabilities. But the government makes it hard to prove that you’re disabled. This means a lot of people with disabilities getting benefits aren’t considered to be disabled by the government. If they can’t work, they might lose their benefits.
The government also makes it hard to “prove” that you are working. It takes a lot of time and paperwork. If people don’t do the paperwork right, they can lose their benefits even if they are working.
ASAN thinks work requirements don’t work well for anyone. Lots of people can’t get jobs because of where they live or because nobody will hire them. Nobody deserves to lose the help they need because they can’t get a job. We need to make it easier for people to get the help they need, not harder.
Housing and Community Living
What is Community Living?
Community living is when disabled people live in the same places as non-disabled people, and get to make the same choices every day as non-disabled people. This includes choices like when to wake up and go to sleep, whether or not to have a roommate, when to go out or stay at home, or where you would like to go when you go out. All disabled people have the right to live in the community.
Many disabled people need support to live in the community. This could be things like someone to help them cook or clean, transportation into their neighborhood, or a roommate who can provide support around the clock. These things are called Home and Community Based Services (HCBS). The government needs to make sure enough money is put into HCBS programs that help disabled people live in the community. Everyone who needs HCBS should be able to get them.
Institutions are places that keep disabled people separate from our communities. They don’t let disabled people make our own choices. There are many kinds of institutions. Some of them are big buildings like nursing homes. Others look more like houses, such as group homes or “intentional communities”. But all of these places are institutions. ASAN does not support any kind of institution.
The systems that support disabled people have something called “institutional bias”. Medicaid will pay for disabled people to live in an institution, but it doesn’t always pay for the services that people need to live in the community. Sometimes it will pay for these services, but you have to go on a waitlist. Sometimes, this can take years. The government won’t help you get support while you are waiting, unless you live in an institution. Lots of disabled people can’t wait to get the support they need, so they are forced to go into an institution. ASAN thinks this bias is wrong and needs to be changed immediately. We work to try and make sure everyone can get the support they need in the community.
Autistic people have specific needs when it comes to getting housing. We may be sensitive to certain sounds or lighting, need help doing tasks around the house, need assistive technology in the house to help us, or have other support needs. This doesn’t mean that autistic people need special houses just for us. We need houses that are accessible to everyone, including autistic people. The government needs to think about this when helping disabled people get housing. The best way to do this is by talking to autistic people during this process.
Working with Helpers
Some disabled people need support staff to help us with everyday tasks, like cleaning, cooking, bathing, or getting around our house or neighborhood. Government programs don’t pay support staff a lot of money, even though this work is so important to disabled people. Agencies that organize supports don’t always treat staff well. They may not get the breaks or health care they need. We believe that support staff do their best work when they are paid well and get the help they need, too. There should be more funding for support staff, and laws should be changed to make sure this happens.
Some people think that support staff need to have certain trainings or certifications to do their jobs. But this can make it harder for disabled people to get help. These trainings can be too expensive for certain people to take. They might only be offered in places that are hard to get to. If a family member of a disabled person wants to also be support staff, they might not be allowed to help because they don’t have the right training. The trainings could even have bad information in them that could hurt disabled people. ASAN believes that disabled people know what we need best. Communicating with our support staff about our specific needs is more important than any training. If there are going to be trainings, disabled people should help create them.
Access to Health Care
It can be hard for autistic people to get the health care we need. Some obstacles to getting care are not having insurance, having insurance that doesn’t cover what we need, or not being near health care providers. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) made it much easier for autistic people to get good insurance. It is important to protect the progress we made. There is still so much more to do to make sure that everyone who needs health care can get it. Efforts to make health care better need to focus on strengthening, improving, or going beyond the ACA.
Teaching Doctors About Autism
Some doctors don’t understand a lot about autism. They might think that any medical problem we have is because of autism. They might use this as an excuse to not give us health care. Or, they may try and “cure” our autism instead of helping us with our health problems. Some doctors treat autistic adults like children and share information about us without our permission, even though this is not allowed. They may try to talk to our families or helpers instead of talking to us, or just refuse to treat us because we are autistic. Doctors need to be trained about what autism is and how to work with autistic patients. Doctors should give us the help we need to be healthy.
Getting What Works for Us
Doctors and insurance companies may try to deny disabled people what we need to live our lives. This can be assistive tools like a wheelchair or AAC device, or resources like pain medications to manage chronic conditions. They may try and say that we don’t “need” these things. But disabled people know best what we need. Doctors and insurance companies should listen to us and make sure we get what we need.
One way that doctors may try to deny people what they need is called “religious refusals”. This means that the doctor says it is against their religion to give someone a certain treatment. Support workers can also do this. They can refuse to help a client do something that goes against the worker’s religion. As disabled people, we know how dangerous it is to have a doctor let their personal beliefs about our bodies get in the way of what we need. We need to be able to rely on health care workers to do their jobs, no matter what.
Our Lives are Worth Living
There are a lot of practices in medicine that discriminate against disabled people. Some hospitals won’t give organ transplants or other life-saving medical treatments to people with disabilities. They don’t see it as “worth the effort” to try to keep us alive. Some doctors even help disabled people die from suicide instead of trying to help save our lives. They might try to convince disabled people that suicide is the best option for us. ASAN believes disabled lives are worth living. Doctors need to focus on making our lives better instead of acting like we are better off dead.
Medical research can also treat disabled lives like they are worth less than non-disabled lives. An example of this is Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs). QALYs try to calculate the “value” of each year of life based on what disabilities a person has. For example, the value of each year of a non-disabled person’s life is 1, but someone with a disability will always have a number that is less than 1. This measure isn’t fair to people with disabilities. Our lives have as much value as non-disabled people’s lives. Research should focus on how to accommodate us instead of devaluing us.
Getting an Autism Diagnosis
ASAN believes all autistic people are valid, whether or not we have a diagnosis. It can be really hard and expensive to get a diagnosis, especially for adults. Insurance usually does not cover getting an autism diagnosis as an adult. (For more information on why an autistic person might not get a diagnosis, see “Not all autistic people are diagnosed.”) We think more doctors need to be trained to give autism diagnoses, and insurance should cover getting a diagnosis. But doctors should also listen to autistic people when we talk about how our disability affects us, even if we don’t have an official diagnosis.
Many autistic people also have mental health disabilities. A lot of people with mental health disabilities have our rights taken away because of our disability. We may be put in an institution against our will, or be forced to get treatment or take medication we don’t want. Doctors may also give our health information to our family members or other doctors, even if we want to keep this information private. ASAN believes people with mental health disabilities should always have control over our treatment and medical information.
Harmful attitudes about mental health disabilities make it harder for people to use their rights. For example, many politicians say that people with mental health disabilities are more likely to commit gun violence. Studies have shown that this isn’t true. People with mental health disabilities are actually more likely to be victims of violence. When people are scared of people with mental health disabilities, they do things that hurt us. They may make it easier to put us in institutions or look at our private health information. ASAN is committed to fighting against this stereotype. Read more about ASAN’s beliefs on mental health and gun violence here.
Autism Research and Therapies
Autism Cannot and Should Not be Cured
A lot of doctors pretend that they can cure autism. They use things like medications, chelation, bleach, restrictive diets, and other things that don’t work and can actively harm autistic people. They convince families to give them money in order to hurt disabled children. ASAN thinks this is wrong. ASAN believes that any doctor who lies and says they can cure autism shouldn’t be a doctor. Real doctors agree with us.
Most self-advocates agree that autism doesn’t need to be cured. Instead of wasting time and money on something that isn’t possible and that autistic people don’t want, we should focus on supporting autistic people to live good lives.
Helpful and Harmful Therapies
Many therapies can be helpful for autistic people, like physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and AAC. We think these therapies should be easier for autistic people to get. But there are some therapies that focus on making autistic people seem “normal” or appear “less autistic”. The most common type of this therapy is Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). ABA uses rewards and punishments to train autistic people to act non-autistic. ABA and other therapies with the same goals can hurt autistic people, and they don’t teach us the skills we actually need to navigate the world with our disabilities. Sometimes people say they use ABA to work on other skills, like communication. There are better ways to teach those skills. We work to make those better ways available to everyone.
ASAN does not support any one kind of therapy for autistic people. Different things will work better for different autistic people. The most important thing is that any therapy should help autistic people get what we want and need, not what other people think we need. Good therapies focus on helping us figure out our goals, and work with us to achieve them.
Research That Helps Autistic People
We need more research that helps autistic people live our lives. But most autism research focuses on trying to find out what causes autism, in order to prevent or “cure” it. This is not research that autistic people want. It doesn’t help autistic people that are here now. More money needs to be given to research that helps us, like research on communication, community living, education, and health care for autistic people.
Recently, more research has been done to try and change the genes of autistic people before we are born. The goal of this research is to make it so that when we are born, we are not autistic. Autistic people are an important part of society, and we should get to live our lives as autistic people. This research is eugenics, and should not happen.
Community Based Research
ASAN supports Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR). This means that members of the community help make the research projects that are about us. Researchers and the autistic community can work together to help make our lives better. To learn more about CBPR, you can visit the website of the Academic Autistic Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education (AASPIRE, http://aaspire.org), which ASAN is proud to be a part of.
Murder is Wrong
There are times when parents or caregivers kill their disabled family member. When this happens, our society treats it differently than when a parent murders a child without a disability. The media usually focuses on how much of a “burden” the disabled person was to their family. The murderer usually spends less time in jail, if they go to jail at all. Killing a disabled person should be treated the same way by society as killing a non-disabled person. Our lives are worth living, and murder is wrong no matter what. To learn more about this issue, visit the Disability Day of Mourning page.
Our Privacy Matters
Sometimes, autistic people get lost, or decide to walk away from their school or family members. This could lead to the autistic person getting hurt, getting in trouble, or people worrying about where they went. Some people think that autistic people should have a GPS tracker on us at all times so we never get lost. Other people think autistic people should have our names in a registry, so if the police find us, they know we are autistic. ASAN thinks both of these ideas take away the privacy of autistic people and can be used to hurt us. They could be used to control where we go and what we do. We don’t support any ideas that take away our privacy. ASAN supports other ways to keep us safe in the community. This could include making our neighborhoods safer, teaching us about safety, and giving us one-on-one support to help us go the places we want to go.
Violence and the Police
ASAN does not support the idea of using “wallet cards” or other ways for autistic people to let police know they are autistic, like information on a phone app. Using a wallet card is dangerous for an autistic person. If an autistic person reaches into their pocket to get a wallet card or their phone, police could think they are reaching for a gun and shoot them instead.
Many police officers don’t know a lot about autism. If they see an autistic person, they might not understand what we are doing, or that we move and communicate in different ways. This has lead to the police hurting, arresting, or killing autistic people. This problem affects all people with disabilities, especially Deaf people, people with mental health disabilities, and people with cognitive disabilities. People of color with disabilities are the most likely to be hurt. People of color, especially black people, are targeted by police three times more often than white people. Police violence in America has existed since the days of slavery, and racism is still a big part of police violence in the United States today.
When police violence happens, the police need to be held accountable for their actions. Hurting us when we are not hurting anyone else is against the law.
ASAN believes that police should get training on how to deal with different situations without becoming violent. But ASAN does not support police training that is just about autism. Police need to treat everyone safely and respectfully. They shouldn’t need to know we are autistic to do that. The solution to police violence isn’t training, it is accountability.
For more information on police violence, racism, and people with disabilities, please see our booklet.
Disability in Prison
A lot of disabled people are put in prison. Disabled people who have trouble communicating may not be able to defend themselves when accused of a crime. Some crimes, like stealing or loitering, happen because of poverty, which many disabled people have to face. This issue especially affects disabled people of color, who are more likely to be arrested and put in prison because of their race.
The solution to these problems isn’t to put disabled people in prison. We need more resources to help disabled people in our communities. Disabled people who get arrested should get the help they need to defend themselves in court. This includes help to communicate, like access to AAC or an ASL interpreter. Nobody should be put in prison for crimes that don’t hurt anyone or that happen because someone doesn’t have what they need. We should focus on getting people what they need instead of putting them in prison.