World Autism Acceptance Week

To celebrate World Autism Acceptance Week, we asked Cllr Neil Laurenson to share his thoughts on his own autistic experience and his hopes for the future. 

What does World Autism Acceptance Week mean to you personally, and why do you think it’s important to highlight the diversity of autistic experiences?
My opinion about World Autism Acceptance Week is the same about every other acceptance/awareness day – while it’s great that effort is being made to appreciate differences, I believe that this effort should be made throughout the year.

How do you feel your presence as an autistic councillor impacts the inclusivity of local government and representation?
I don’t think that, in terms of autism representation, my presence as a councillor has had a big impact. However, I have only recently been diagnosed as autistic (and as an ADHDer) after almost 12 years of being a member of my local council. Better late than never, I suppose! After my autism diagnosis, I started an autism awareness YouTube channel called Autistic Not Alien, so I hope that has some impact.

How can we better support and empower autistic individuals to reach their full potential and participate actively in civic life?
I think that rather than patronising autistic people, it would be better to appreciate them as people who, generally, have positive motives. Autistic people aren’t a bloc – like neurotypical people, they are individuals – but if they’re involved in politics, it’s probably best to believe in their stated intentions instead of discerning an ulterior motive. So-called ‘black and white thinking’ is a euphemism for solid principles.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of autism awareness and inclusion in society?
My hope is that people accept that autism is a difference and not a disorder. Autistic people are a minority, but that doesn’t mean we’re ‘wrong’. There seems to me to be so much that is wrong in a neurotypical world – a world that seems content with chaos and hypocrisy.

What advice would you give to other autistic individuals interested in pursuing a career in politics or local government?
I would suggest reading about autistic politicians and meeting them and/or local activists so that you know what will be involved. Autistic people tend to be pioneers and forerunners of change. If you’re autistic, or think you’re autistic, believe in your strengths and your capacity to make a positive difference.