How to be a good ally

The autistic community doesn’t have a good history with having real allies, which is why neurotypicals spoke for us, wrote stereotypical and often incorrect findings, and turned autism into something that should be feared. Thankfully, the community is starting to take back its voice and does amazing work, but having good allies is really important as well.

The first step to being a good ally is to be educated, and that can take a long time. Reading one book doesn’t make you an expert on autism, neither does having a degree if you’ve never actually asked an autistic person about their life. The best way to be educated is to listen to autistic voices from all walks of life, as white autistics do not have the same experiences as BAME autistics.

There is an entire autistic community online who have resources, written and spoken experiences, and put to rights the misinformation that has been spread over time. Accessing this community and taking in what they say is so important. Being a good ally also means checking yourself on your own internalised ableism. Did you think all autistic people were like Sheldon Cooper? Did you not know nonspeaking autistics can also have a career and have a voice too? It is not a bad thing to realise your old views were wrong, as you will only grow as a person.

It is important to not speak over autistic people when they are discussing autism, as they have a lived experience and neurotypicals will never fully know what their reality is like. Even if you are a mother of an autistic child, you still haven’t experienced life as an autistic person, so taking a step back and taking in what an autistic person is saying will be extremely valuable. If an autistic person points out that your language towards autism is wrong or that something you are doing might be harming your autistic child, they aren’t being rude or malicious. They know autism as it is who they are, and their experience is valid and could help your child.

We, as a community, have a long history of being mistreated, abused and even killed. It is important we break away from that history and start creating a world
that helps autistic people. Autism Acceptance Month, which is in April, has been a big example on why we need more good allies. Autistic people are left to do all the work for the month
and it is often a stretch to get neurotypicals to amplify our voices. Their platforms aren’t used to repost our work, they don’t engage and many organisations won’t post anything, saying that they have too many ‘awareness’ days to post about. Autistic people are working so hard to change the narrative, and so having a ton of good allies who lift up our voices would be amazing and would help debunk a lot of misinformation. Even if you’re doing work behind the scenes, social media can have a huge impact.

In workplaces, there are a lot of ways for employers and colleagues to be better allies. As well as being educated on autism, creating appropriate accommodations for autistic employees will help them thrive in the company. Too many autistic workers have experienced denied accommodations, leading to burnout and eventually quitting their job. It is why the unemployment rate for
autistic adults is so large. When training people on autism, having autistic people do the training not only amplifies our voices, but lets us provide a wide range of accurate information,
lived experience and the opportunity to change people’s minds about autism. Many people claim to be supportive of autism, but then make comments or discriminate when an autistic person is outwardly autistic. You cannot be an ally and laugh at an autistic person stimming, or ask why lights are turned off as if it something odd. Awareness of autism isn’t enough, a real ally is fully understanding and accommodates an autistic person.

Ways you can be accommodating in everyday life

  • Know what causes sensory overload so that it can be avoided
  • Communicate in a way that is best for the autistic person
  • Be open to communicating in different ways
  • Be able to change your plans if your autistic friend is experiencing anxiety or burnout and can’t do what was planned
  • Have an open line of communication so that you can be fully educated about autism
  • Do your own research (though from the autistic community, not
    neurotypicals) instead of bombarding an autistic person with lots of questions. Advocates and content creators are there to educate.
  • Learn what textures, tastes, sounds and smells are good and bad for the autistic person
  • Understand that every autistic person is different
  • Do not gaslight or ignore what autistic people are saying
  • Do not question or confront an autistic person for being autistic
  • Use your platform to boost autistic voices
  • Let autistic speakers do training/talks
  • Read books written by autistic authors

By Luce Greenwood, autistic advocate and content writer. @coffeecupsbooks