And why it's important for parents and teachers to know them, if they want to find and engage in the Autistic Community in a positive way
Autistic individuals often face challenges in navigating social relationships and feeling accepted by others, which can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection.
Finding a supportive community of peers who share similar experiences and perspectives can be an incredibly powerful way for autistic individuals to feel seen, heard, and valued.
If you're the parent or teacher of an autistic child, you may be wondering how you can help this child find a sense of belonging and community.
Many autistic individuals and their families have difficulty knowing where to begin in finding this community. Identity markers such as language and symbols can be ever-changing and nuanced, and it can be challenging to identify the right entrances to the autistic community.
Autistic identity markers can take many forms, including symbols, language, and other identifying characteristics. These markers can serve as important signals for autistic individuals and their families in identifying supportive communities and navigating social situations.
By learning to spot these markers, parents and teachers can become strong allies for their autistic children and students, helping them to connect with others who share similar experiences and make navigating social spaces with peers easier.
Autistic vs Person With Autism vs On the Spectrum vs Neurodiverse
- What are the right terms?
With the growing autistic community and a lot of new research, there has been a major shift in the ways most people and science view autism. This is very beneficial for young autistics' future understanding of their neurotype, but it can also be confusing for everyone since it has brought in many new terms and made some older ones obsolete.
It is always important to foremost respect an individual's preference for language, as language can be a powerful tool in shaping one's identity and self-esteem.
But to gain access to the autistic community, it can be very useful to stay up to date on the current trends in language, so here are a few language tips:
Many autistic individuals prefer to use "identity-first" language, such as "autistic person," rather than "person with autism," because it reflects the belief that autism is an integral part of an individual's identity, rather than a separate condition or disorder.
By using identity-first language and terminology with your child or students and encouraging others to do the same, you can help them assert their identity and connect with others who share similar experiences.
Using words like "neurotypical," "NTs," and "allistics" can also help differentiate non-autistic individuals from autistic individuals without framing neurotypicality as the norm or default.
Another important marker of autistic identity is the use of the term "ActuallyAutistic". This term is used to distinguish autistic individuals from non-autistic individuals for the benefit of knowledge sharing or learning.
It emphasizes the unique and valuable inside perspective that autistic individuals bring to the world.
By teaching your child or students about this term and encouraging them to use it, you can help them feel valued for their opinions.
The term "non-verbal" is commonly used to describe individuals who are unable to communicate using speech. However, this term can be limiting and can perpetuate the misconception that individuals who are unable to speak do not have the ability to communicate in other ways. Instead, many people prefer the term "non-speaking" as it more accurately reflects the fact that individuals who do not use speech to communicate may still be able to communicate effectively using alternative methods such as sign language, typing, or picture communication systems. It's important to recognize and respect the communication preferences of individuals and to use language that reflects the full range of their communication abilities.
Another term that has gained popularity within the autistic community is "AuAdhd," which stands for Autism and ADHD. This term acknowledges the fact that many autistic individuals also have ADHD, and that the two conditions can often overlap and interact in complex ways. By using this term, individuals can highlight the unique challenges and strengths associated with having both autism and ADHD, and connect with others who share similar experiences. It's important to note, however, that not all autistic individuals have ADHD, and not all individuals with ADHD are autistic. Therefore, it's always important to use language that is respectful and specific to an individual's experience.
For those who identify as both autistic and part of the LGBT+ community, the term "Double Rainbow" has emerged as a way to express this intersectional identity. This is especially important for autistics, as research shows that a larger percentage of individuals on the autism spectrum also identify as part of the LGBT+ community compared to non-autistics. By acknowledging and understanding the unique challenges and experiences faced by Double Rainbows, we can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of the autistic and LGBT+ communities.
"Twice Exceptional" or "Double E" refers to individuals who are gifted or have exceptional abilities in one or more areas, but who also have one or more disabilities. In the context of autism, "Twice Exceptional" typically refers to individuals who are both autistic and intellectually gifted.
In the autistic community, there are many terms used to describe common experiences and behaviors, which may not be well understood by those outside the community.
One example of this is the use of the word "stim," which refers to self-stimulatory behaviors, such as rocking or flapping hands, that autistic individuals engage in as a way to regulate their sensory experiences. Another term is "happy flappy," which is a lighthearted way of describing the joy and excitement that can come with stimming behaviors like hand flapping. Additionally, the term "sensory euphoria" is sometimes used to describe the intense pleasure and sensory satisfaction that can come from engaging in certain sensory experiences, such as listening to certain types of music or feeling certain textures.
One common aspect of autistic identity is the concept of "Same," which refers to a strong preference for consistency and routine in one's environment and experiences. This can include a preference for the same foods, clothing, music, people, and more. For example, the term "Same-food" is often used to describe the phenomenon of an autistic person consistently preferring to eat the same types of food, often prepared and presented in the same way. This can provide a sense of comfort and familiarity for the individual, and deviating from the routine can cause anxiety or distress.
Similarly, the concept of "Same" can extend beyond food and into other areas of an autistic person's life. This can include a preference for wearing the same types of clothing, listening to the same types of music, or spending time with the same people. By understanding and respecting an autistic individual's need for consistency and routine, we can help create a supportive and inclusive environment that promotes their well-being and sense of identity.
It's important to be aware of potential dog whistles when engaging with the autistic community, such as the use of stigmatized words like "Autism Mum," "ABA," and "high-functioning" or "low-functioning" to describe autistic individuals.
Although these terms may be used with good intentions, they can be triggering for many young and adult autistics due to the history of harmful treatments.
For example, "Autism Mum" is often used to refer to parents who believe they have "cured" their child's autism, appropriate the autistic identity or advocate for harmful treatments like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Similarly, the terms "high-functioning" and "low-functioning" oversimplify the complex and varied experiences of autistic individuals and reinforce ableist stereotypes.
To promote true inclusion in the autistic community, it's important to avoid using these terms and instead focus on describing specific traits and experiences in a respectful and accurate manner.
Pride or Puzzle?
Visual identity markers in the Autistic community can take many forms and can be a powerful way for autistic individuals to express their identity.
The infinity symbol has become a powerful representation of the neurodiverse community, and many autistic individuals use it as a way to express their pride and identity.
The symbol is often depicted with a rainbow colour gradient to represent the diversity and awesomeness within the community and/or gold for the specific flavour of autism.
Teaching your child about the infinity symbol and what it represents can help them feel connected to the larger autistic community and can provide a sense of pride in their identity. By using the infinity symbol, your child can signal to other autistic individuals that they are a part of the community and feel a sense of belonging.
"Au,"/Gold; has become a popular symbol among some spaces in the autistic community. The use of the symbol stems from the similarity between the letters "Au" and the first two letters of the word "autistic." Some autistic individuals find the use of the symbol for Gold "Au" to be a cool and Au-some way to identify themselves as part of the autistic community.
Some autistic individuals also use specific clothing or accessories as visual identity markers. For example, wearing ear defenders or noise-cancelling headphones can signal to others that an individual is sensitive to auditory input and may need additional accommodations.
Wearing ear defenders, noise-cancelling headphones or indoor sunglasses serve not only as a means of protecting oneself from sensory overload, but also as a way of signalling to peers in the autistic community.
Another visual identity marker used by some in the autistic community is the use of stim toys. Stimming is a self-stimulatory behavior that autistic individuals engage in to regulate their sensory experiences, and stim toys can provide a tactile and visual outlet for this. Fidget spinners, squishy balls, and sensory necklaces are just a few examples of stim toys that have become popular among autistic individuals. By using these toys, autistic individuals can signal to others that they are part of the community and may also find comfort and regulation in using them. (Note that many adult stim "toys" may include knitting, drawing or other small transportable fidget-type hobbies)
The sunflower lanyard is a growing trend among people with disabilities, including autism. It is a subtle visual cue that signals to others that the wearer may have a hidden disability or need additional assistance. While it was originally created for those with hidden disabilities like autism, it has also been adopted by others who may have mobility or sensory issues, and need additional support.
One of the benefits of the sunflower lanyard is that it allows individuals with disabilities to signal their needs in a discreet way, without having to disclose their diagnosis to others.
Additionally, wearing the sunflower lanyard can also help individuals with disabilities to recognize each other in a community and potentially foster a sense of belonging and connection.
And autistic communities have a unique affinity for memes, - often used as a way to share experiences, express feelings, and build a sense of community.
Memes are an effective tool for communication and socialization, especially for those who are non-speaking or struggle with face-to-face interactions. The use of humor and relatable content in memes can create a shared experience that brings people together. Additionally, memes can help to break down barriers between individuals by providing a common language and cultural references. For many in the autistic community, the use of memes has become an important aspect of their daily lives, allowing them to connect with others who share similar experiences and challenges.
It's important to be mindful of the potential pitfalls of certain markers, such as the puzzle piece and "Light It Up Blue" campaign, which can be associated with negative and stigmatizing views of autism due to their history of excluding actually autistic individuals in their campaigns and studies.
Even if you personally have a fondness for the puzzle piece or follow genuine awesome autism moms on social media, it's not worth defending those choices, if they dismiss or exclude the autistic community.
Doing so can have detrimental effects on the autistic child or learner, who may feel dismissed by proxy. Rejecting the autistic community and its experiences can cause children and learners to internalize negative views of their own identity, leading to a sense of shame or embarrassment about being autistic.
It's essential to remember that language matters, and the way we talk about autism and autistics in general can have a profound impact on how our children and learners view themselves and their place in the world.
By instead focusing on positive and empowering markers of autistic identity, such as the infinity symbol and identity-first language, you can help your child find a supportive and inclusive community.
When learning how to be fluent in autistic communication and embracing positive markers of autistic identity, we can provide more honest and empathic support to our autistic youth in their journey towards self-determination and connection with their community.
Through small changes in our daily language use, we can empower our children to feel proud of their identity and assert their right to be seen and heard.
By signalling to our children that they are valued and accepted for who they are, we can help them navigate a world that too often misunderstands and stigmatizes their experience.
(It's important to note that this article reflects the perspective and experiences of one autistic person. Autism is diverse and complex and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We encourage you to seek out and listen to the many voices of different #actuallyautistic individuals, as their experiences and perspectives may differ from those presented in this article. /Janni)