21 Feb 2020

The problem with #LightItUpBlue

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Light it up! Maybe you’ve heard of it before, the campaign of organisations dealing with autism to illuminate their buildings in blue to draw attention to autism. Different buildings are then put in the spotlight with blue light. But where does this come from? Who came up with this? And why do I call this a problem?

The campaign was devised by an American organization called “Autism Speaks”. This organization is one of the major powers behind the search for a “solution” to autism. In other words, a “cure”. They want to rid the world of autistic people. Of course they don’t say this directly, but since autism is not a disease and therefore has no cure, it is the only logical conclusion.

Autism Speaks, the creator of…

The campaign #LightItUpBlue was conceived by the organisation Autism Speaks. The reason for the colour blue? Simple; the colour of men. After all, autism is a man’s disease. Of course the latter is sarcasm. We know better these days. Women can be autistic as well as men.

Autism Speaks originates from the old generation, people who are sincerely looking for a cure for autism. People who claim that autism is a disease that only occurs among men. They say they speak for autistic people. They do this without any involvement of autistic people. They say autistic people can’t stand up for themselves and that’s why they do their job. However, they ignore all complaints they receive from the autistic community.

And now in the Netherlands

Now I saw the actions for the autism month (April) pass by in a number of Dutch Facebook groups I’m in. And several of them take over, without thinking, the #LightItUpBlue. I find that particularly painful. It’s probably with good intentions, people really don’t want to deliberately harm people. What they want to do is ask for understanding for autism, get attention for the charities in the Netherlands that deal with autism and get understanding for the autistic people in the Netherlands.

But they haven’t looked at where the campaign comes from and what kind of organisation actually came up with it. They did not look at what people have been writing about it for years and what the alternative might be. Because there is…

No #LightItUpBlue but #RedInstead

The alternative

An alternative has been devised by people. Unlike #LightItUpBlue, it’s #RedInstead. A movement started by autistic people internationally as a counterpart to the #LightItUpBlue initiative. Instead of a puzzle piece, claiming that parts of us are missing, #RedInstead has the sign of infinity as a symbol. For the infinite variety that autism is.

I saw a second movement on the website of NeuroClastic called #OurGoldenMoment. Why #OurGoldenMoment? Maybe you have seen it before, several people use the abbreviation Âû in their names on social media. This is the chemical abbreviation for gold. Many people use this color, gold, and the infinity sign as a way to identify themselves as neurodivers. In a next blog I will go a little further into this last movement the #OurGoldenMoment. Who knows what we could do with it as against sound.

Look beyond the hype, ban blue lights

All in all, I think the intention of the people in the Netherlands who are organizing actions in the autism week is very good. I think the people who don’t know any better even think it’s a very nice thing to put a building in a nice blue light to draw attention to autism. But they don’t know where it comes from. And if they’re not told, it’s not so weird that they don’t know.

So for me it’s not something I blame directly on people. They don’t know any better… But right now… Now they do, don’t they?

So let’s not turn the world blue on April 2nd or the week after that…

Let’s look at alternatives like #RedInstead and #OurGoldenMoment

Thanks for reading
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Tags: autisme LightItUpBlue RedInstead OurGoldenMoment 
Picture of the author David Westerink
David Westerink
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I am David, born in 1984 and I'm autistic. I write blog posts and advocate for autism acceptance. I'm willing to talk to anyone about anything.

I have my own podcast (in Dutch) about autism and neurodiversity! Checkout the AutCast!

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  1. It’s so hard reading Dutch sources talking about light it up blue, the puzzle piece, the rise of ABA therapy. Usually they actually mean well and don’t realize the ableist and dangerous history of these things. But every time I see it my heart sinks

  2. Same… I read a lot about those things here from international autistics and want to prevent those things from happening in NL, but sometimes it’s difficult because it isn’t of interest of people…