SILVER SPRING, Md., November 1, 2011 — Last fall, an Australian early-intervention organization designated November 1 as “Communication Shutdown Day.” The day is intended for those in the autism community to fall silent online to highlight the communication difficulties that often come with autism.
Not surprisingly, the concept of falling silent in order to speak didn’t sit well with many in the autism community, and furthermore, it angered autistic adults who didn’t see a lot of parallels between their communication difficulties, often mitigated by online tools, and neurotypical (NT) adults choosing to spend a day away from Facebook and Twitter.
“As for my fellow Autistics, as the NTs disconnect and fall silent, let’s speak,” wrote autistic adult Corina Becker on her blog, No Stereotypes Here, after she heard of Communication Shutdown Day.
“Let us use this day to flood every social networking site we know with our accounts, our experiences, what it feels to be Autistic,” she continued. “Every sensory pain, every communication frustration, every account of being bullied, every wondrous moment, every peaceful calm, every instant of understanding and joy.
“Let them hear our voices and take back the Autism community. Let us speak. Let us tell you what it’s like to be us. And that would be true Autism Awareness.”
When she wrote those words on October 15, 2010, Becker had no idea how they would resonate in the autistic community. Three days later, after seeing that many others felt similarly, Becker proposed that autistic individuals take back November 1 and make it Autistics Speaking Day.
“Who will join me?” she wrote.
By the time November 1 rolled around, more than 80 people had written blog posts about their experiences with autism and more than 2,000 people “attended” the event on Facebook. This November will not only see the second occurrence of Autistics Speaking Day, but also awards for Becker and Kathryn Bjørnstad (who helped expand and facilitate ASDay) bestowed by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network at the organization’s fifth anniversary celebration.
Looking back now, Becker says she was amazed by the response to her blog post. “I didn’t realize that I reached enough people to get broadcast so much,” she says. “ASDay is one of the many examples of the power of social media. But yeah, I was stunned, and it was a great and awesome feeling.”
Becker and Bjørnstad have since created a website and Facebook page for Autistics Speaking Day 2011 in anticipation of November 1. Thus far, hundreds of people have liked ASDay 2011’s Facebook page and 30 people have said they will be writing blog posts.
Becker says she doesn’t think about the numbers of participants much, caring more that there are participants at all. “What matters to me is that there are people participating and interested,” she says. “As long as there are people who do that, then I consider ASDay a success.”
Becker, a 26-year-old university student in Ontario, was diagnosed with autism when she was 17, after having been diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities as a child. She is very active in the autism community, holding positions or contributing to such diverse organizations as the Autistic Adult App Project, the Autism Women’s Network, and the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, among others.
She explains that the purpose of ASDay is to broadcast autistic voices and stories in order to spread their message as far as possible.
“This is to raise autism awareness and acceptance, help battle negative stigma about autism and advocate for the inclusion of autistic people in all levels of community,” Becker says, “Especially in those that make decisions that affect us.”
Although the event is primarily intended to amplify autistic voices, non-autistic allies are encouraged to participate as well. Furthermore, participation can take many forms, from writing a post or sending a tweet, to reading through the posts of others.
“The idea of ASDay is to promote and broadcast autistic people, so participation can be whatever people feel comfortable doing,” says Becker.
Becker has a couple of posts she is thinking of posting on November 1, but she mostly plans to take a behind the scenes approach, moderating and managing entries, along with tweeting throughout the day.
“To me,” says Becker, “ASDay isn’t just another day for me to make autism posts; I do that by myself all the time. No, ASDay is a day to promote each other, all the autistic voices, as a unified community working together.”
Readers can find a listing of participant posts on the Autistics Speaking Day website. This year, Becker and Bjørnstad will be implementing trigger warning labels on posts. Writers who want to contribute to ASDay can submit their links and posts via an online form. You can follow ASDay on Facebook and Twitter.
Jean writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey. Read more of Jean’s work at Autism Unexpected in the Communities at the Washington Times.
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