EJ Fawcett is a 19-year-old activist and student from Abingdon who has been involved with Oxford Youth Strike, the UK Student Climate Network, Extinction Rebellion Youth, and founded Autistic Youth Climate Activists. They have kindly agreed to be interviewed, to help us spread the word about April being Autism Awareness Month.
Everyone experiences Autism differently - what does being Autistic mean to you?
On its own being Autistic is just a part of who I am: hyper-focus and special interests make me really good at some things and executive dysfunction makes me pretty bad at others. It’s hard for me to view Autism in a vacuum because so much of my experience has been affected by the society we live in, a society which I don’t believe values Autistic individuals and seeks to either deny our strengths and treat us as inferior or deny our weaknesses and put us on a pedestal - sometimes it’s a mix of both at once somehow.
Putting it simply, being Autistic means I’m part of a neuro-minority which means I think and perceive things differently to most people, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How do you feel about Autism Awareness Month?
I feel that Autism Awareness Month is often not a month for Autistic people; it’s a month for Allistic (non-Autistic) people to feel good about putting up with us and spreading misinformation about how Autism apparently ruins people’s lives. Those same people often forget that feelings can go both ways and that Autistic people are more often likely to be the ones dealing with and making allowances for Allistic people.
The month is full of Autism hate groups like Autism Speaks and Next For Autism pushing a eugenicist agenda, when we should really be focusing on the good that neurodiversity does for society and how neurodiverse people can be supported.
Many Autistic people call April ‘Autism Acceptance Month’ as people are aware we exist, we just want them to accept us.
Is Oxfordshire a supportive place to live if you're Autistic? What needs to be improved?
Oxfordshire isn’t much better or worse than many places to be Autistic in the country as far as I’m aware. The main improvements needed are to systems like the mental health services for both adults and children, the wait times are too long and no extra support is offered if you are considered ‘high-functioning’.
It would be great if funding and resources were put in place to help teach about neurodiversity at local schools and colleges as bullying is a major problem that pretty much gets ignored and people need to be told to knock it off and be more understanding. Training is needed for staff too as they often perpetuate bullying by insisting that victims should somehow try harder to fit in.
How can organisations and neurotypical individuals help to make life more accessible for Autistic people?
I think the biggest thing is to listen to Autistic people over people who work with/are related to Autistic people. So much of society’s view of Autistic people is shaped by only listening to Allistic people.
It goes on a step further from listening to Autistic people, as you need to believe what they say and act on it. At one point people kept turning the music up too loud in my school common room and didn’t take it seriously when myself and other Autistic people told them to stop, they acted as though we were making some ridiculous demand, when it was literally about avoiding sensory pain and overload. The whole situation made me feel quite negative and is just an example of how people don’t care to include or understand Autistic people, as it was hardly a big ask.
How did you come to get involved in activism?
I was always politically aware and active while growing up and I attended a few demonstrations as a teenager, but I became properly involved when I was 17 when Youth Strike 4 Climate started in the UK. I always had a drive to make change and Youth Strike gave me a mission. I went from thinking that to make a difference I had to be an adult, to knowing that I had power already and I just had to choose to use it.
What issues are you currently most passionate about?
Climate Change will always be my biggest issue as other issues become rather moot if everyone is dead. Although currently I’m very passionate about the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill as I believe it is an affront to our democracy and I have been an avid supporter of the protests against it.
Although I’m now 19, I couldn’t vote when I first became an Activist, so protest was my only way to take part in democracy and get my voice heard. I want to maintain it for other young people.
Are local activists accommodating to neurodiverse people?
It’s a mixed bag, I would say that the Activism community is more accommodating and accepting than most spaces, but I have had issues with people who have been unwilling to accept that I see the world differently. A lot of people, including Activists, have this weird thing where they ‘don’t dislike Autistic people’ but seem to really hate a lot of common Autistic traits and are unwilling to budge on it even if you have explained that it’s Autism multiple times.
I think that in general Climate, Social Justice and Anti-Fascist Activists are often very willing to learn about Autistic and other neurodiverse people but I still mask many of my Autistic behaviours in front of Activists that I don’t know well, because the fear of judgement is there. I do think that if I hadn’t been as good as masking, I wouldn’t have come as far and achieved as much as an Activist, which is weird to think about.
Greta Thunberg has said her autism is a "superpower", and "If I would’ve been like everyone else, I wouldn’t have started this school strike" - does this ring true for you?
It does ring true for me but I prefer not to see Autism as a superpower. I do think that the world would be a better place with more neurodiverse people in positions of power because I think that having more different perspectives is always a good thing and due to special interests and hyper-focus an Autistic person could potentially achieve a lot in a particular field, like me with Activism.
I think that I wouldn’t have been able to do everything I’ve done if I wasn’t Autistic and it’s shaped every part of my life, every interaction, every memory, every protest, so I don’t know who or what I would have been if I wasn’t Autistic, it’s just a core part of who I am.
What do you wish more people knew about autism?
I wish that more people knew that Autism isn’t a disease or horrible disorder that needs curing, it just makes some people different to the norm. Many Autistic people go under the radar their whole lives and may not even know themselves that they’re Autistic.
I wish that more people knew not to support groups like Autism Speaks and Next For Autism as they advocate for eugenics and want to get rid of Autistic people.
I wish that more people understood that Autistic people are already trying really hard and making so many allowances for how neurotypicals act and it would be really nice if more people could return the favour and try to be more understanding.
I wish that more people knew about Autistic traits and behaviours like special interests and stimming, and that they wouldn’t tell Autistic people to ‘shut up’ or ‘stop fidgeting’.
What should people read if they want to support an autistic loved one, and what resources would you recommend for autistic people who are looking for more support?
I also recommend following the Autisticats (@autisticats on Twitter, @the.autisticats on Instagram) and Autistic Science Person (@AutSciPerson on Twitter or https://autisticscienceperson.com/). You can also find The Autistic Youth Climate Activists at @ayca_group on Twitter and Instagram.
My main recommendation to people with Autistic loved ones is to love and accept them for who they are and make sure that they know you’ll be there for them. Don’t ask them to change and try to be normal, accept them as a whole Autistic person, don’t view them as a broken neurotypical.