This is a historic day for the Autism community in Canada.
April 2 is the sixth annual international United Nations World Autism Awareness Day, and the first year Canada will officially recognize the occasion: the government passed the World Autism Awareness Day bill in October, 2012.
The point of the day, according to the Autism Speaks website, is to raise awareness about autism, and to fund "research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism".
But as many voices of autism online have pointed out, there's more to autism than a "condition" that needs curing.
On this day, it's important to hear the voices of actual people with autism, alongside the voices of the parents, medical professionals, and others who are working on their behalf.
Some people who have autism question the understanding of so-called "autism experts." Blogger Alyssa (who runs 'Autistic People Should...') writes "Autistic People Should Be Considered The Experts On Autism":
"Autistic people are the experts on living in austistic brains. We've spent our whole lives austistic, after all.
"And mainstream autism experts get so much wrong, and they do it so obviously [...] So-called experts tell us that Temple Grandin's books are worthless for understanding autism. When an expert says that Grandin "cannot possibly get the concept of what it is like to be herself (Grace 96), we know it is time to question."
Another writer who has come out strongly against the medical community's treatment of autism is Anya Ustaszewski. Writing in the Guardian, Ustaszewski says she is against the idea of prenatal testing to screen for autism, and the possibility of terminating pregnancies as a result.
"I am not a savant or genius," she writes. "I'm no good at maths or science, so I don't meet the criteria of the special gifts that might be lost if prenatal testing enabled parents to terminate foetuses deemed likely to develop autism."
She also believes that autistic rights don't receive enough attention.
"Far more time and attention is given to parent-led organizations (in particular the National Autistic Society) and very little to user-led groups," she writes. "The autistic rights movement is almost completely ignored."
There are some great resources online that help explain the autism spectrum. For a fascinating look at 'The World of Asperger's', check out this episode of Dr. Frank Gaskill's 'The Aspie Show':
He celebrates some of the great thinkers and public figures who have Asperger's (including Temple Grandin and Dan Aykroyd), and talks about the autism spectrum
And for a simulated glimpse at how someone with autism might see the world, check out this video. It shows gameplay from Auti-Sim, a video game that is meant to display the world through the eyes of someone autistic:
Sophie Walker's daughter Grace has autism. She wrote a powerful piece for the Independent about the experience of sharing the game with Grace.
We've had some prominent autism advocates in the red chair. Check out what they had to say below.
Animal activist and autism advocate Temple Grandin was in the red chair in 2011, and she shared her definition of autism.
She also discussed her theory that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg may have Asperger syndrome, her philosophy on helping the weak and the values of the modern world, and where her connection with animals comes from. Check that out below:
Actor Dan Aykroyd was in the red chair a few weeks back, and he talked about being diagnosed with mild Tourette's syndrome and Asperger's syndrome as a young man, and how he still sees symptoms to this day.
He also suggested that his Asperger's syndrome might have helped him create some of his on-screen characters:
And Carly Fleischmann, co-author of 'Carly's Voice', shared her Defining Moment with us. Carly was diagnosed as a young girl with severe autism and an oral motor syndrome that prevents her from speaking.
She told us about how social media has changed her life:
You can follow Carly on Facebook and Twitter @CarlysVoice. And to see the world through her eyes, visit Carly's Cafe, an interactive experience based on her book, 'Carly's Voice'.
As well, the CBC's The Nature Of The Things did a documentary called 'The Autism Enigma'. You can see that here.
And the CBC Radio program 'Ideas' explored this question: what is the experience of the Divine for the autistic mind? You can listen to that here.
This evening, many buildings around the world will "Light It Up Blue" in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day.
Last year, BC Place, the Rogers Arena and Telus World of Science in Vancouver all took part, as did the Great Statue of Buddha at Hyogo, Kobe, Japan, and the Empire State Building in NYC, along with thousands of other buildings.
So keep your eye out for blue lights, and visit AutismSpeaks.ca to find out more about the day.
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