World Autism Awareness Day will be held on April 2 and members of the autistic self-advocacy movement are campaigning for basic services and social acceptance.
Autistic activists from groups like the Geneva-based Autistic Minority International, Wrong Planet and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network are organising to be heard as a community rather than being primarily represented by experts and professionals in the field.
In Melbourne, people with autism have begun writing to federal politicians calling for adult autism diagnoses and other services for autistic adults to be covered by Medicare.
High functioning autism, including Aspergers Syndrome, was unknown in the English speaking world until the 1980s. Many of today’s autistic adults have experienced a lifetime of relationship difficulties, being bullied and a patchy work history without knowing why they feel different.
Autism clinics charge more than $600 for an adult diagnosis. Social skills groups for autistic teenagers also have to be paid for privately.
Members of Autistic Minority International have demanded the right to be heard at a workshop at the Brocher Foundation in Geneva over June 17-19. The workshop is billed to develop recommendations for the assessment of adolescents’ competence in clinical care.
Recommendations formulated by a closed group of 20 professionals at this workshop will be widely disseminated by the World Health Organisation in European countries and other parts of the world, advising doctors when and whether to deem young people competent to make decisions concerning their own sexual and reproductive health.
These professionals have not sought public input into their recommendations, which will have far-reaching consequences for young people’s rights worldwide.
Workshop organisers have told Autistic Minority International: "Our focus is not that much on children with developmental disabilities, but much more in the field of sexual and reproductive health of adolescents who don't suffer from any chronic disorder.”
But without addressing the competence of adolescents with autism or other conditions or disabilities, some healthcare professionals may be unconsciously guided by unchallenged outdated paternalistic perceptions, and unfairly deem young patients with autism or other disabilities to be incapable of independently seeking sexual or reproductive health services.
Aspies For Freedom nominated June 18 as Autistic Pride Day when autistics worldwide are urged to celebrate their uniqueness. Although people on the autism spectrum often face challenges, self advocates want autism recognised primarily as a positive and natural genetic variation rather than an undesirable disability.
Many scientific and technological advances and artistic achievements were made possible through the highly focused thinking styles typical of autistic individuals. Autistic animal scientist Professor Temple Grandin attributes her innovations in cattle handling to her ability to think in pictures rather than words.
Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Beethoven and Mozart are among the many high achievers who displayed characteristics that would today be recognised as signs of autism.
Some autistic groups have called for the United Nations to recognise their community as a minority group under its Minorities Declaration. Granting people with autism more official recognition will allow people on the spectrum to publicly identify as autistic, fight back against bullying and give them a place to belong.