The month of April is autism acceptance month. Only a small percentage of our society is autistic, but that does not mean their experiences should be less understood by others.

By now, almost everybody has heard of autism and has a vague understanding of it, but not of the details. This is why, in celebration of autism acceptance month, I spoke to Chris Bonello, an autistic author and advocate for autistic people, to gain some insight into how society can better accept autistic people. 

What is a lesser known fact about autism which you wish people understood?

"That a lot of us don't look like we're struggling, but it's not necessarily because we're doing fine. Often we're using up all our energy reserves to meet societal expectations in the moment and will have to pay the price for it later."

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about autism that need to be debunked?

"The one that irritates me most is the myth that autistic people "don't have empathy", which ironically is usually banded around by people who have never empathised with an autistic person in their lives.

That, and vaccine-related misinformation isn't quite dead yet, even decades after Wakefield's profiteering was uncovered and debunked."

What are some typical ways someone can support a friend or family member who is autistic?

"The specifics obviously depend on the individual person, but one thing that I think applies to everyone is allowing them to be their authentic selves. The wider world often demands for us to conform, to mask, and to pretend to be 'less autistic' for other people's convenience, so home should be a space where an autistic person can be unapologetically themselves."

What are some of your favourite representations of autism in the media?

"I'm going to be extremely biased and reference my own Underdogs books - a near-future war series where autistic (and otherwise neurodivergent) characters from a special school get to be the heroes. I think it's hugely important for representations to have a strengths-based approach whilst being open and honest about the struggles, which it was I was aiming to do."

How do you think the media’s portrayal and acceptance of autism can be improved upon?

"By listening to autistic people, and involving us directly in the development process. And it's not just a matter of tick-boxing diversity by involving us: a lot of harm can be done by people who side-line our perspectives while writing about us."

Chris also wrote an article recently putting a spotlight on autism representation in fiction, which covers topics such as the history of autism representation, and how we can grow from certain mistakes made in the media in the modern day.

  • This article was written by by Sophie Gilbert, from Wildern School, as part of Newsquest's Young Reporter Scheme.