I sent this letter to the organisers of The Autism Shows, with over 100 supporting names, in June 2018. As a result, I and two others met with the orgnaisers of the Autism Shows and representatives of the National Autistic Society, and agreed several steps forward, including: a new space for autistic people at the event; provision of free drinking water; more free exhibition space for autistic-run organisations; and more information about accessibility and facilities to be available in advance. Hopefully, this will lead to an improvement in the accessibility of the Shows to autistic adults.
We are writing to you as autistic adults to raise our concerns that The Autism Shows are, for us, hostile and unsuitable events.
1. The venues are not autism-friendly. The Shows take place in cavernous exhibition centres, which are noisy, busy, brightly-lit and chaotic, with no readily-available relaxation spaces or affordable refreshments. This causes distress to the many autistic people with sensory sensitivities.
2. Material is distributed at the events which pathologises and presents a negative view of autistic people. For example, the magazine Autism Eye was available free and was promoted to visitors. It contains articles that describe autism as a chronic health condition, that argue that autism is caused by immune deficiency, and that promote treatments such as Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) which many autistic people consider to be abusive. Similarly negative and harmful messages were given out by other materials available at the Shows.
3. The Shows are very clearly not aimed at us, even though they call themselves ‘Autism Shows’. The Shows were about us, without us. Autism Eye is straplined as ‘for parents and professionals’ – not for autistic people ourselves. While genuine support, services and expertise are important to us, autistic people are not helped by being described and having decisions made for and about us entirely by others. This approach perpetuates the myth that we are helpless, necessarily dependant, and not the experts on our own experiences.
4. The events are almost exclusively about autistic children, not adults. One of the major problems that autistic people face is that when we become adults, support services are no longer provided and we disappear from public view. The Autism Shows are contributing to this.
We, and other autistic people we have heard from, find the Shows distressing. We know of several autistic adults who have been reduced to tears by the experience of attending, and many who having attended once, will not attend again.
An organisation and event which claims to advance our interests is in practice damaging them. The Autism Shows could be platforms for autistic people of all ages to articulate our experiences, strengthen our organisation and put forward our calls for support and equality. Instead, they are little more than a trade fair that promotes patronising and medicalised views of us. We appreciate the few autistic speakers who do contribute to the Shows, but do not believe that this compensates for or justifies the flaws outlined above.
We look forward to your response.
Becca Lamont Jiggens
Caz van Slyck
Adrie van der Meer
Becca Jane Phoenix
Sara Jane Daniel
Linda Burrel Reid
David Wilburn Unger