Are you looking for ways to support autism awareness? Based on a previous campaign by Autism Speaks, one way to support the autism community is to wear the colour blue! Let’s learn more about whether we should wear blue to promote autism awareness.
The History of Autism Awareness and Symbolism
The history of autism awareness and its symbolism is one marked by advocacy, education, and continuous progress towards better understanding. The first formal recognition of autism as a distinct condition occurred in the mid-20th century when two researchers, Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, independently documented patterns of behaviour and social difficulties in children that were fundamentally different from the prevailing psychological theories of the time.
For many decades thereafter, there were myriad misconceptions and misrepresentations about autism. However, the rise of the Autism Rights Movement in the late 20th century significantly shifted the narrative, advocating for neurodiversity and the rights of individuals with autism. Symbolism related to autism has also evolved over the years. The autism awareness ribbon, characterized by its puzzle-piece design and brightly colored pattern, was first introduced by the Autism Society in 1999 to reflect the complexity of the autism spectrum. The puzzle piece used to signify the puzzling nature of the condition and the diversity of experiences of those who live with it. It was a symbol for raising awareness, promoting understanding and acceptance, and fostering hope for a more inclusive future. However, to autistic individuals the puzzle piece represents negativity about autism rather than positivity. A second issue for autistic people, is that the ‘puzzling nature’ of a puzzle piece is harmful as it makes it seem there is something wrong or confusing to be autistic.
Blue for Autism: The Color and Its Origins
The colour blue has become synonymous with autism awareness and advocacy, originating from a campaign launched by the organization Autism Speaks in 2007. Known as “Light It Up Blue,” the initiative was to encourage people worldwide to illuminate buildings and landmarks in blue light on April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, as a visually compelling demonstration of solidarity. Initially, the choice of blue is said to have been influenced by the higher prevalence of autism among boys than girls, as per the statistics available at the time of the campaign’s inception. However, it’s essential to note that autism affects individuals of all genders, and the colour blue now stands as a broader symbol of understanding, acceptance, and support for everyone on the autism spectrum. The sight of blue lights shining brightly across global monuments and landmarks has not only increased public awareness of autism but also united communities in advocating for the rights, inclusion, and well-being of those affected by the condition.
Controversy and Boycotting Opinions for Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks, one of the most well-known organizations advocating for autism awareness and research, has faced significant controversy and calls for boycotts from certain sectors of the autism community. Some of the principal criticisms revolve around their early rhetoric, which presented autism as a tragic condition that needed to be cured or prevented, thus contributing to fear and stigmatization. Many in the neurodiversity movement argue that this approach disrespects and devalues autistic people by implying that they are broken or incomplete.
In addition, many communities are choosing to distance themselves from Autism Speaks and refrain from wearing the colour blue as it ultimately represents supporting Autism Speaks as an organization. Autism Speaks has been criticized for the lack of autistic representation in its leadership and decision-making processes. They do not include autistic voices from within the organization. Additionally, the organization’s budget allocation has come under scrutiny, with critics arguing that an insufficient proportion is directed towards services for those living with autism. It was also reported that only 4% of funds donated to Autism Speaks are reinvested in services and supports for autistic people and their families. In response to these criticisms, Autism Speaks has evolved its language and goals over time, acknowledging the importance of support and acceptance over cure-focused rhetoric and striving to include more autistic voices in their organization.
Non-Color Symbols: Exploring Alternative Ways to Show Autism Awareness
Beyond the recognizable blue colour and puzzle piece symbols associated with autism, there are other symbols that have emerged as alternative representations of autism awareness. One such symbol is the infinity sign, often depicted in a rainbow of colors. Championed by the neurodiversity movement, this symbol underscores the vast diversity among individuals on the autism spectrum. The rainbow-colored infinity sign serves to remind us that autism is a spectrum condition, with a wide range of characteristics and experiences that can vary enormously from person to person. Some agencies have adopted their own symbols such as a bridge to represent bridging the gap, challenges, and strength between neuro-typical and autistic individuals.
Another alternative symbol is the gold or copper-coloured jigsaw piece, put forth by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). This symbol was chosen as gold is the chemical symbol for copper, which is used in electrical wiring, reflecting the atypical neural ‘wiring’ often associated with autism. These alternative symbols serve not only as a sign of autism awareness but also as a call for acceptance, respect, and the recognition of the strengths and potential of those on the autism spectrum.
In order to avoid the use of blue and the unwelcome associations, the autism community responded with three different counter movements to support and bring awareness to the autism community:
- Tone It Down Taupe — Created in 2013 to introduce a colour that symbolizes a more toned down approach to autism awareness, and taking autistic people’s sensory hypersensitivity into consideration.
- Light It Up Gold — The movement was established in 2012 by Elinor Broadbent Âû and La Lione Âû who run the Facebook group Âutistic ûnion.
- Red Instead — A campaign that was suggested by autistic individuals to combat the movement of wearing blue from the campaign by Autism Speaks.
Embracing Inclusivity: Celebrating Autism Awareness Beyond Colours
Autism awareness is not confined to recognizing the symbolisms associated with colours or images, but is more significantly about embracing inclusivity and diversity. The neurodiversity movement advocates for the understanding that neurological differences like autism are not defects or disorders, but simply another aspect of human variation to be respected and celebrated. This principle encourages society to move beyond mere awareness and towards genuine acceptance of autistic individuals as they are. It’s about fostering environments where autistic people are not merely accommodated but actively included and valued for their unique perspectives and skills. Celebrating autism awareness beyond colours means recognizing the full potential of autistic individuals, encouraging their participation in all realms of society, and cultivating a culture of respect and understanding that acknowledges their experiences and needs. It’s about listening to and learning from autistic voices, encouraging self-advocacy, and challenging the stereotypes and stigmas that have historically surrounded autism. In this manner, we can truly promote an inclusive society that celebrates diversity in all its forms.
What do you wear on autism awareness Day?
For autism awareness day, you can support the autism community by wearing the colours red or gold instead of the colour blue.
Is autism awareness Month red or blue?
For autism awareness month, you should try to wear red instead as #RedInstead is a movement to support Autistic individuals, not Autism Speaks.
What colour is autism awareness Month 2023?
The colour for autism awareness month in 2023, should be red or gold to support the voices of the autism community.
What is the best symbol for autism awareness?
The best symbol for autism awareness is the infinity sign, often depicted in a rainbow of colours. Championed by the neurodiversity movement, this symbol underscores the vast diversity among individuals on the autism spectrum. The rainbow-coloured infinity sign serves to remind us that autism is a spectrum condition, with a wide range of characteristics and experiences that can vary enormously from person to person.
Janice is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Special Education. She also holds a Master of Science in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from Queen’s University, Belfast. She has worked with and case managed children and youth with autism and other intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in home and residential setting since 2013.