How to Be a Great Ally to the Autistic Community

Reframing Autism - Ally to the Autistic Community How To BlogIf you’re here, chances are that you’re wondering how you can be a great ally to the Autistic community – and on behalf of the Autistic community, we would like to say a big, resounding thank you!

The world needs more people like you, who are willing to learn, listen to actually Autistic voices, and help us by advocating with us for change. We appreciate you being here, and we’re honoured to provide resources and education to help you feel better informed, connected and empowered as an ally.

An ally is someone who stands up for, supports and encourages the people around them. In this instance, an ally is a person working to amplify Autistic rights for either an individual Autistic person they know, or for the Autistic community at large. You might be a grandparent, sibling, friend, colleague, neighbour, partner, other family member, or have many other roles in an Autistic person’s (or many Autistic people’s) life.

Being an ally goes further than just not adding to the collective harms the Autistic community experiences. Rather, it encompasses actively taking steps to combat the stigma, discrimination, exclusion, and oppression that Autistic people have faced and continue to face.

There are many ways you can “show up” and support Autistic people and our Autistic community. First and foremost – remember to listen to and amplify Autistic voices. Listening is at the core of allyship and although there are countless professionals and so-called “experts” on Autism, nothing is more insightful than the knowledge of immediate Autistic lived experience… so wherever possible, listen to Autistic people’s perspectives and experiences. We are the experts on Autism and on our own lived experiences, positive and negative. Support the Autistic folk in your lives by listening to them first, and commit to learning from Autistic voices in general.

This commitment will underpin every other step you take as an awesome Autistic ally!

Seeking out and amplifying Autistic voices

One of the most important ways to be an ally is to show Autism acceptance and understanding on a personal level. This simply means being present and welcoming to Autistic people and their families.

Many Autistic people can feel isolated due the stigma and misperceptions that society has around people who are different – we know that Autistic people (and our families) may not get invited to social events, friends might not visit, and it can be hard to be involved in the wider community. While sometimes we choose to avoid some social interactions because of sensory challenges, social differences, demand anxiety, or just our executive functioning and capacity, the reality is sthat Autistic people are often actively excluded because society does not welcome or accept us.

So, how can you demonstrate your welcoming? Seeking out Autistic voices (however they communicate) and listening to Autistic experiences.

There’s a lot of information about Autism “out there”, and most of it comes from non-Autistic people. So, whenever possible, choose Autistic people as your first source of information. This includes listening to the Autistic people in your life – try to ask the Autistic people in your life what they think and why they may feel a certain way before you go looking for answers elsewhere.

If you don’t have (or don’t know if you have) any Autistic people in your life, you might like to start by looking online into Autistic communities.

One way to start is by looking for the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag or label on social media. If our community leads the conversation, you’ll often find the hashtag. Use the tag to find articles, blogs, memes created by our community.

An important note: if you yourself are not Autistic, please refrain from posting within the #ActuallyAutistic community, as it’s important to keep this space for Autistic voices. Non-autistics are encouraged to post and ask questions in other related communities, such as #AskingAutistics or #AskAnAutistic, which are communities specifically designed for non-autistics to ask questions and learn from Autistic people.

Related: Read “A Manifesto for Allies”

The idea of amplifying Autistic voices might seem complex at times, but it can also be reflected in simple, respectful gestures.

Some examples of amplifying Autistic voices might include:

  • Sharing posts written by Autistic authors
  • Supporting Autistics on social media when you notice they are being bullied or discriminated against
  • When you are discussing Autism, using wording such as “the Autistic community prefers…” and “the Autistic community says…”
  • Supporting neuro-affirming organisations (like Reframing Autism!)
  • Ask Autistic people (especially Autistic creators) how they would like you to amplify their voices – some Autistic people would like their writing shared, others may like opportunities to speak to a group about their experiences… there are so many unique Autistic perspectives, and so many beautiful ways for you to help uplift those voices!

Using respectful language

As an ally, it is vital to use affirming language when discussing Autism. Language choices have real world implications for how people understand Autism, and for what messages we internalise about ourselves if we are Autistic. Language won’t change all the challenges associated with being Autistic in a world that isn’t designed for Autistic people. But reducing the stigma and negative connotations that suffuse much of the language commonly used to speak about Autism will definitely improve the wellbeing of Autistic people and their loved ones.

Generally, the Autistic community prefers identity-first language (“I am Autistic”) to person-first language (“I am a person with Autism”). Functioning labels such as “high functioning” or “low functioning” or indications of severity of Autism are disrespectful, reductive, and dehumanising. Explanations for these (as well as more neuro-affirming language examples) are available in the link below.

Try to avoid phrases that trivialise or minimise our experiences as Autistic people, for example, “We’re all a little bit Autistic!”, “You don’t look Autistic” or “everyone’s being diagnosed these days”. Although many people mean well when they make comments like this, in fact, the sentiment behind these comments invalidate the Autistic community and contribute to spreading harmful misinformation. There is no way to be “a little bit” Autistic: you are either Autistic, or not Autistic, and phrases like these reinforce the idea that a person who is “less Autistic” (or, more accurately, masks their Autism) is better than a person who is “more Autistic”. We really need your help to eradicate these (and other similar) harmful phrases from the collective vernacular!

If in doubt, or if you’re curious, follow the golden rule – ask an Autistic person.

Whether you ask an Autistic person that you know, or whether you approach the Autistic community at large (e.g., online), if you’re unsure of what language is most respectful, please ask an Autistic person for guidance. So, if you want to know how we feel about something, ask us. And, critically, if we call something out as harmful or ableist, believe us. Even if you don’t understand why it is so in the moment, acknowledge and validate our experience. Spend time doing research and learning why that action or langauge might be harmful. We are the experts on our own experiences, and the core business of an ally is to amplify those direct experiences (even if our experiences don’t match your own).

Related: Read “Neurodiversity-affirming Language”

Confronting Internalised Ableism

Internalised ableism is pervasive, and challenging to deal with! Importantly, please remember that just because you identify some internalised ableism in yourself, it doesn’t mean that you’re a “bad ally”. It just means that you have been living in world that has cast a stigma upon Autistic people (along with other neurodivergent and disabled people).

Many Autistic people have their own internalised ableism to confront, too.

It can be disheartening when you are working hard at being an accountable, respectful ally to discover that you also hold some beliefs that are counter to what you are trying to achieve. Internalised ableism isn’t always explicit – in fact, it’s often covert and subtle. Some examples might include making comments, or having thoughts, like:

  • “I don’t know why XYZ is such a big deal for you, can’t you just deal with it? We all struggle with XYZ to some degree.”
  • “I get that XYZ is hard, but you can’t use your Autism as an excuse for everything.”
  • “I understand you’re Autistic, but not as Autistic as XYZ.”

Comments and thought patterns like these reinforce harmful ideas.

So, if you’re going to show up for Autistic people, you’re also going to need to recognise any internalised ableism you may have and confront it. This means getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, and being open to learning new ways.

Ask yourself, “Am I respecting what this person is telling me and giving them the benefit of the doubt? Am I making assumptions based on my own abilities or experiences? Is there any way that I can step back from my initial reaction and challenge any myths or stereotypes I may have believed?”

Society unconsciously sends the message that Autistic people should conform to societal norms as much as possible – essentially, to act neurotypically for everyone else’s benefit, even when it’s to a detriment to the Autistic individual.

Your job as an ally, is to support us to be our best – and most authentic – Autistic selves even if that means stretching yourself beyond “your comfort zone” in thinking about how you expect the Autistic people in your life to conform to neuronormative expectations.

Autistic people face very real and dangerous ableism that tells us that we shouldn’t exist, and it’s helpful if our allies can be accountable and remind us that they respect us for who we are. Although confronting internalised ableism is difficult and uncomfortable – we thank you for doing it, and we respect you even more as an ally when you’re open to learning and growing continually.

Getting It Right

When it comes to being an ally, many people might feel a little cautious. They might feel as though they don’t want to say the wrong thing accidentally, misstep, or inadvertently cause any harm whilst trying to learn. If that’s how you’re feeling, that’s okay!

Here we’ve listed some examples that you might find helpful.

The do’s:

  • Be open and listen
  • Be proactive about inclusion in your daily life
  • Start and encourage conversations about equity and justice
  • Confront your own unconscious biases and be open to being corrected
  • Learn more about the history of the struggle that you are supporting
  • Figure out how you can best change systems in society that are oppressive
  • Share the voices of the people you are supporting – both online and in person
  • Learn how to listen and accept criticism – even if its uncomfortable

The don’ts:

  • Don’t tell, laugh at, or encourage ableist jokes
  • Don’t try to compare your own struggles with ours, if you have not yourself experienced ableism or anti-Autistic rhetoric
  • Don’t behave as though you know what’s best for the people who are experiencing discrimination
  • Don’t assume every Autistic person feels the same way about every issue

If you want to know how Autistic people feel about actions you may be taking, or ways you might be approaching or phrasing something – both at an interpersonal and broader level – ask them.

The communication differences between Autistic and non-Autistic people remind us of a universal human truth: you cannot truly know how anybody feels unless they communicate that to you. We might try to read each other’s facial expressions and tones of voices, but in a world where many brains work differently, this is an imperfect and messy system! Given that many Autistic people have alternative communication needs and preferences, relying on assumptions is unlikely to yield good (or insightful) results – it’s far better to ask than to assume.

On the other side of the coin, if you want someone who is Autistic to know how you feel, it may not be effective to rely, for example, on heavy sighs or raised eyebrows to communicate. Instead, speak your truth. Keep in mind that some Autistic people use pictures to convey their emotions, while others have alexithymia (an inability to describe or label their own emotions). Communicating feelings should always be within the bounds of each person’s comfort level.

If you’re wanting to take broader steps as an ally to the Autistic community and don’t feel comfortable asking an Autistic individual if what you are doing is “right”, you can also approach an Autistic organisation for support. At Reframing Autism, we receive many questions from people who are putting together campaigns or support efforts, wanting to know if their approach is neuro-affirming and respectful of Autistic people. We are always happy to answer these questions, so please don’t be afraid to ask!

If you have any questions around allyship that aren’t covered by this list, please feel free to message us and we would be honoured to help you.


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Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

The Reframing Autism team would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we have the privilege to learn, work, and grow. Whilst we gather on many different parts of this Country, the RA team walk on the land of the Amangu, Awabakal, Bindjareb, Birpai, Whadjak, Wiradjuri and Yugambeh peoples.

We are committed to honouring the rich culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this Country, and the diversity and learning opportunities with which they provide us. We extend our gratitude and respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to all Elders past and present, for their wisdom, their resilience, and for helping this Country to heal.

Join us on the journey to reframe how society understands Autism