Today, Thursday 18th June, is Autistic Pride Day. It is an occasion that is celebrated by many autistic people worldwide and was coined by the Aspies For Freedom forum in 2005. To mark it this year, our Information Officer Luke Aylward talks about how having a majority-autistic staff team is integral to keeping our service going.

At the time of writing, we have seven paid members of staff. Five of us, myself included, are autistic. Some of us received our diagnosis in childhood, others as adults. On top of that, five of our seven-strong Steering Group are autistic too.

In having a mostly autistic team, we are in a good place to offer the best possible information, signposting, peer support and advocacy we can for our autistic peers. This also helps to give Leeds Autism AIM a strong autistic voice, something that was desired since the service started properly in January 2015

What we bring to AIM

Between us, we have a lot of life experience accrued in previous jobs, volunteer roles and in our personal lives. We have experienced discrimination and have had barriers put up in front of us when trying to achieve goals. We also have a strong sense of what is right and wrong, which is particularly useful when speaking to anyone who has issues they would like our support with.

Each of us has a particular way of working which has served the whole service well. I tend to have an intense focus on each task and always know what is needed on a weekly or monthly basis. This ensures that anyone using AIM can easily access info about what we have happening at our Hub sessions within the first week of each month.

I can’t speak for my colleagues – only they can tell you how they work. Whatever I produce for AIM, I try to think what others would like (this goes against what many researchers would have you believe about autistics and empathy). In forums and conversations with my peers and from feedback received, I strive to make whatever resources I provide for AIM (newsletters, posters, blog posts) as accessible and clear as possible for my fellow autistics.

Links to the autistic community

This brings me on to another point. Some of us have links to the wider autistic community, both online and offline. Gill, our Peer Development Worker, is also an academic and is a member of the Participatory Autism Research Collective (PARC). She is also responsible for the hashtag #AutisticsInAcademia, used extensively on Twitter.

Her connections with other autistic academics, allied to her own work and past experience (such as providing autism-specific advocacy services in Wakefield) has helped to drive AIM forward as a service that has autistic pride and empowerment as part of its’ core beliefs. For Autistic Pride Day in 2017, Gill organised a blog for Sheffield Hallam University for autistic academics to share their work.

I have been on forums including Aspies For Freedom and WrongPlanet, as well as many groups on Facebook. I have been to events such as Autscape and have even helped to organise events including protests against the mistreatment of residents at a care home run by the National Autistic Society.

How we have expressed Autistic Pride

Some of us have celebrated Autistic Pride Day more than we would mark Autism Awareness Month (or even Autism Acceptance Month). We have often expressed pride outside of that particular day too, by attending Autistic Pride Picnics, letting people know we’re autistic in our Twitter profiles and even by taking part in events.

An example of this is the stall we did alongside Leeds ABC and Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust’s Learning Disability and Autism team last year. We even had an Autistic Pride flag on display!

We would like to wish you all a very happy Autistic Pride Day, whether you are autistic or not.