How did you first find out about autistic pride?
I first read about it on the internet in early 2007. It was on an internet forum discussing the phenomenon. It was also the first time I had heard of Aspies for Freedom.
I was immediately inspired by it and the tagline for the first year, which was “acceptance not cure”. Although I had accepted that I was different at that age (I was 23) I was more proud of things I had achieved in spite of my autism, not because of it.
I interpreted Autistic Pride as not only a demand for society to accept autistic people, but as a challenge to autistic people to accept themselves and each other.
Can you tell us about the history of autistic pride?
Autistic Pride day was created in 2005 on the internet forum aspies for freedom. The date of June 18th was chosen because it was the birthday of the youngest person on the forum at the time. The intention was to uplift and empower Autistic people, and enable us to assert ourselves in public, in the same way Black Pride, LGBT Pride and Mad Pride sought to do the same for their respective marginalised communities.
In 2006 Amy Nelson and a group of others in Aspies for Freedom had a picnic in Hyde Park, and in subsequent years many other people have organised picnics on that day, most notably Kabie Brook and ARGH in Inverness and Chen Gershuni in Israel. It was also celebrated online worldwide.
What made you choose to organise autistic pride events?
I first went to Autscape (www.autscape.org) in August 2014, and was immediately struck by sense of belonging I felt there amongst other Autistic people, and removal of the pervasive anxiety that I had felt amongst other people for most of my life.
I wanted to recreate this, at a lower cost, and something more public facing as well. as I felt Autistic people shouldn’t be hiding from the world.
I chose a small picnic in Hyde Park in June 2015 because it’s been a venue for radical political movements for centuries. People attending had the option of having a quiet picnic, or speaking in speakers corner.
What have been the highlights of autistic pride events?
There have been many. In the ones I have organised in Hyde Park alone, the highlights include:
-Having people gain the confidence to speak in speakers corner, and in front of an audience
-Having passers by who are autistic notice us and join in.
-The sense of belonging and community in these events
Watching Autistic people openly engaging with the world with confidence, and not being met with a hostile response, or if there is hostility from the public, having the confidence to face it down.
-Allowing people who are newly diagnosed, or see other conditions such as downs syndrome or mental illness as defining them explore the autistic side of themselves.
It’s also been great helping and inspiring other people to organise other Autistic Pride events, there have been many in the U.K. over the past two years (see the Autistic Pride alliance Facebook page for details).
What recommendations can you make for anyone else holding autistic pride events?
Start small and simple, in the first year, with no more than 10-20 people. Select a spot in an area in a park that’s central, easy to get to, and people have the option, to be extroverted and public facing, or quietly having a picnic in a secluded area. Make sure toilets and other amenities are nearby, and shelter in case the weather turns bad. With small events, ensure that people who attend do so at their own risk, and people who have trouble taking care of themselves should bring carers.
Advertise it on social media, or local media. Use the first year for experience, to determine what works best, and how much you can handle, then build upon it in future years.
As you gain confidence, you can approach local authorities and get the event registered, and invest in public liability insurance, and set up speakers, gazebos, tents and more. The largest Autistic pride events are in Reading, Chester and Brighton, and can accommodate up to hundreds of people.
Getting donations from nearby supermarkets are very easy, so feel free to do that.
While it’s best to have a small team organising Autistic pride events, in practice, it’s only one or two people who do so. So make sure you are aware of your limits and what you can manage by yourself.
Try and put in a detailed schedule of your event, as this reassures people who attend, but understand that it almost certainly won’t go to plan, so be flexible.
Join Autistic Pride Alliance, a Facebook group that functions as an unofficial hub for Autistic Pride organisers, who will be happy to give encouragement and advice.
There is no central authority that directs Autistic Pride, and each event has it’s own character and conception of what Autistic Pride is. The only real ground rules are: It must be led by Autistic people, No promotion of quack cures or normalising therapies such as ABA and no racism, sexism, homophobia, ‘high-functioning’ supremacy, or any other forms of punching down.
Be careful when getting involved with major charities. There have been many cases where autistic individuals have collaborated with charities on projects and had charities forcibly take them over.
How do you see Autistic Pride developing in the future?
I think over time Autistic Pride events will be get bigger and more organised. Autistic Pride Reading has now become a registered charity and many more may follow suit.
While some pride events may become major, involving hundreds of people, I’d like to see many small events up and down country, in small towns and villages, with a few dozen people each. This way it will reach more people and be more Autistic friendly.
I am very excited to see people doing more overtly public events for Autistic Pride, there was a march in Galway, and live performances in the town centres in Spalding and Chester. I would like to see this develop.
While people with high support needs and severe sensory issues attend autistic pride events, we can always do better at being inclusive and this will be an ongoing debate.
NT-led charities, both good and bad will try to co-opt Autistic Pride for themselves. They need to be constantly reminded that it’s an event led by and for the autistic community. In previous years we have successfully fought off attempts by the NAS and Autistica to co-opt Autistic Pride.
I hope that Autistic pride events will be a catalyst for building a local autistic community. In Tunbridge Wells I intend to found a support group on the back of Autistic Pride.