It’s getting close to April. This is the month that companies, both large and small, promote “Autism Awareness” products en masse.
April is also the month I feel the most erased as an Autistic woman, and as an Autistic mom to Autistics. During “the month” store shelves are packed with products geared to the “Autism Market.” The focus is on selling to non-Autistic people who love an Autistic, and to generate donations to benefit Autism Speaks.
I’m a 48 year-old Autistic and disabled woman, and a mother to Autistics ages 27 to 17. I have an incredible interest in fashion, style and related products. I love colors, fabric, textures and sparkle. As a young teen, I spent hours upon hours in the library reading every book on fashion, style and makeup I could find … and this included fashion trends from the 1700s to the 1980s.
My interests also included everything from skin care to self care. Fashion magazines were always a happy space for me. I would cut out pages, or snip out items I liked, and store them in a cigar box. I loved to shift through the images and enjoy the colors and experience. I still keep a collection. These days though, it’s out of the box and on Pinterest.
The “Autism Mom” market (aka the “Autism Warrior” or “Autism Dad” market) is not directed at Autistics, or even Autistic parents. This binary trend not only ignores the gender diversity of the Autistic population, it bypasses Autistics completely to market to non-Autistics.
It’s with difficulty and frustration I read about companies like Tommy Hilfiger that have created a compelling adaptive fashion line that might be of benefit to Autistics and disabled people.
The difficulty is, as much as I love adaptive fashion and know we need far more focus on it, Tommy Hilfiger is a board member of Autism Speaks. He and his wife have been since 2012.
The Tommy Hilfiger brand supports the Autism Speaks mission to find a solution for Autistic people. Tommy Hilfiger ‘fights Autism’ and still, falsely, refers to Autism as a disease.
Fact: Autism is not a disease, never has been. Autism is a neurodevelopmental difference and disability.
Refreshingly, I’m sensing a shift in the upcoming April pattern.Some small businesses are seeking to promote their products to Autistic people, and our loved ones. They recognize Autistics as the demographic to reach. The difference in the imagery and language used in their campaigns is remarkable.
The first thing that catches my attention? These companies are using Identify First Language (IFL) in their marketing blurbs and communications. Using IFL is a nod of respect to Autistic culture and community.
Another change that catches my attention: These companies create advertising imagery and logos that avoid tragedy narrative, exclude hate symbols, and work hard to show the Autistic community that they are connected to us. The descriptive verbiage used to promote products show a nod of respect towards Autistic culture.
EVERY TIME I SEE A COMPANY ACKNOWLEDGE AND MARKET TO AUTISTIC PEOPLE, I CHEER. FINALLY, THEY RECOGNIZE US.
It’s my goal to find more of these companies that are truly attempting to reach the “Autistic Market” and share about them and their products here. It’s also my goal to show companies that bypass Autistic people in their “Autism marketing” they’re missing out on so much untapped opportunity.
Unfortunately, boycotting all companies with ties to Autism Speaks is practically impossible, and frankly these companies simply don’t care. Most of these businesses, or their parent company, have a high-ranking official that is also an Autism Speaks Board member. The Autism Speaks influence network touches everything from big business to healthcare. They are a purposeful powerhouse.
Historically, Autism Speaks has been easily able to drown out, or silence, Autistic voices. They were successful at excluding Autistic adults at every turn. Unfortunately, the Autism Speaks influence network includes all major media outlets, public service announcements, magazines, newspapers, TV shows, movies, plays and more. It’s astounding to be an Autistic surrounded by such propaganda in the name of Autism Awareness.
Many folks don’t realize, Autistic people aren’t fighting a grassroots charity that wants to help Autistic children. No, we’re fighting the most powerful business people in the world, and the power of their companies, to get heard. We’ve been purposefully locked out of representation for decades now.
I feel this exclusion most deeply in April, when I walk down the aisles at my favorite stores and see products like Kiehl’s promoting “Autism Awareness” using puzzle piece symbols, Person First Language and generating proceeds to donate to Autism Speaks.
The exclusion is also apparent in award shows, where non-Autistic people give other non-Autistic people awards for something Autistic-related. Most notably in 2021, this can be seen with Sia’s Golden Globe nods for the film “Music.” (And recent news tells me Golden Globes is failing at inclusion across the board, not just with us Autistics. Currently, they don’t have single Black person on the board either. So my guess is their lacking representation for most minority groups.)
It’s time to push aside ableist storylines and imaginations about “The Secret World of Autism,” trash the myths and mistruths, and focus on reality. The time for true inclusion is now.
ARE YOU AN AUTISTIC CREATOR WITH A STOREFRONT OR OTHER PLATFORM TO SELL YOUR WORK?
ARE YOU A COMPANY SEEKING TO MARKET PRODUCTS RESPECTFULLY TO AUTISTIC PEOPLE?
If so, I’d love to know more about your products and background. I’m seeking to create profiles of Autistics and companies that want to market to Autistic people. This is a project that is ongoing and not specific to only April.
If you think you or your company might be a good fit to feature here, let’s communicate. Please email me at email@example.com.