A4A’s Annual Report 2020: What we did while we stayed the eff at home

January 2020, members protesting the film VAXXED2 prior to the pandemic

Despite the global pandemic and the infodemic, autistic-led advocates around the world continued to do important work throughout 2020-21. Autistics for Autistics was no exception. Perhaps because autistics tend to work so well in the nonverbal world and online, it was in some ways not too difficult to adapt to the changed landscape of advocacy.

Although by all accounts 2020 was a [insert long string of expletives here] we persevered and got a lot done in rights advocacy, education and activism.

Early 2020
In January 2020, before the pandemic hit, a group of autistics and ally friends stood in the freezing rain for two nights in a row, protesting the screening of VAXXED 2 at a theatre in Toronto (Check out the eerily prescient photo of Raya and me, above!) Other autistic-led groups held similar protests in Halifax, Moncton (our local chapter); North Bay and Victoria. We handed out fliers explaining why vaccines are safe and explained to passersby the ways that antivax is associated with hate organizations.

(When you think about it, the image of a small group of mostly #ActuallyAutistic people in the rain pretty much signifies the movement against antivax until mid-2020, doesn’t it? Might things have turned out a little bit better in 2020 if more neurotypicals had tuned in earlier to the message that autistic people have been screaming from rooftops for decades? Well, yes. Annnyhow, on to the rest of the year…)

Pandemic-related education and advocacy
In March, as the first wave of the pandemic hit Canada, A4A produced “We are Heroes: A Plain Language Guide to Covid-19” (with cute cat illustrations!) about sheltering in place and ways to cope and understand all the changes happening during closures. It was our most popular publication, going viral around the world. We also collaborated with Autistics United Canada on a guide for autistics with other resources related to survival and coping during the pandemic. AUC did some awesome online hangouts, too, which A4A members participated in.

Autistic rights issues didn’t go away during the pandemic; some were, in fact, amplified. We advocated for fair supports for disabled people when the federal government totally neglected the disabled in its pandemic response. We called for an end to the warehousing of disabled people in Ontario’s broken Long Term Care institutions. We joined with Arch Disability Law to support the rights of AAC users to have access to communication during hospital care. We advocated for the rights of an Ontario student who was being forced to attend school despite safety concerns.

Autistics for Autistics also partnered with the Centre for Independent Living Toronto (CILT) on the City of Toronto-sponsored Disability Community Vaccine Outreach Initiative, which has worked for vaccine access and education for disabled people in Toronto, leading the #ActuallyVaccinated workshop and providing vaccine access guidance and assistance for members attending City vaccine clinics who use AAC and those with sensory and other access needs. Many thanks to CILT!!

Our members also volunteered with Vaccine Hunters Canada, the grassroots movement working to ensure that all have access to vaccines and that no vaccine goes to waste.

Other presentations and events
Outside of COVID-related issues, we also participated in many Zoom sessions related to issues such as employment, human rights and health care access. Several of our members presented before employers (such as Morningstar Canada) about neurodiversity in the workplace; employment groups (such as Viability); student groups (EngiQueers Canada); universities (autistic equity, at University of Toronto); and medical schools (health care access, at Queen’s University and U of T). We spoke up and put pressure on the government to de-fund an abusive residential institution which is the subject of a human rights class action. (More news on this in September).

We held annual events, including our annual Disability Day of Mourning vigil virtually. The Disability Day of Mourning is a day to remember disabled people who were killed by their caregivers and to say: never again. While we could not raise the Neurodiversity flag at Toronto City Hall (due to Covid safety restrictions) we did raise a tiny flag on a tiny statuette of the CN tower, virtually, on social media. We did not hold an online event for the International Day of the Stim this year, but it will be back (online event) on Sept 12, 2021.

Consulting and advocating
When the Canadian Government retained an arm’s-length organization (the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, CAHS) to assess the Government’s autism funding approach, we authored reports on social inclusion (school and housing); economic inclusion (work and supports); “interventions” (services); and the problem of autism pseudoscience. The CAHS provided surveys, written online forums and Zoom-style online consultation sessions and breakout chats. Many of our members turned out to address human rights issues and the desperate need for a paradigm shift in Canada’s currently broken approach to autism services and community inclusion. The CAHS’s final report will be out in January 2022.

In 2020, Autistics for Autistics advocated for autistic people and their families on a daily basis and educated within the legal, educational and social services sectors. We also took opportunities to speak out against the abusive practice of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and against the eugenics projects of Autism $peaks. We continued to support #LandBack and other Indigenous rights as well as Black Lives Matter and other antiracist movements, 2SLGBTI+ rights, the Toronto encampments and the right to housing, economic justice and climate justice.

International advocacy
Internationally, Autistics for Autistics was honoured to be invited to consult as part of a consortium with the Professional Standards Authority of the UK on their review of the evidence around Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). ABA is not funded much in the UK but the lobby is attempting to get a foothold there. We shared resources including our 2020 paper about new research on undeclared conflicts of interest and other methodological issues in ABA.

Our group also worked with US advocates and authored a petition against what we view as unethical experiments on autistic children by Duke University. The petition gained more than 15,000 signatures in just a few weeks and was part of a broader catalyst for further investigations and media coverage. US regulators are now taking a closer look at Duke’s program as part of a review of stem cell companies’ claims and we will have more news on this case in the next few months. Please keep signing and sharing!

We also continue to be active in the quarterly International Autistic Leadership Summits, with groups from around the world.

We recently launched a Discord server for our group chats and have begun to migrate, at least in part, from the problematic social media giant that shall not be named. Our members in InfoSec had typically relied on Twitter and email for communication because of the many issues with FB; working in a Discord is better and more inclusive. All activists need to start imagining a future of social and political organizing that works outside the traditional social media box.

In September, Autistics for Autistics will have its first AGM, where two new Board members will be elected as we reduce the size of our board from nine to seven. I’m stepping down from the Board. For the record, I’ve loved being on this Board and no one has asked me to leave. It’s just time. As we have established capacity, it’s now a moment for us founders to begin to rotate off the board and make way for new people, new energy and new ideas.

In the four years since our group has launched, we’ve accomplished so much! My favourite memory is from a day in April 2019, when we all gathered at Toronto City Hall for the first-ever raising of the Neurodiversity Flag to celebrate ND Pride. Connecting irl like that and watching our community’s flag fly in front of our City Hall was a beautiful moment. I’m so grateful to the autistics and allies who made that day such a celebration and who bring such vibrancy, focus and commitment to our movement.

-Anne Borden King



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