Indigenous and Autistic: Nothing About Us Without Us

April is World Autism Month, which is intended to promote connectedness with and inclusion of autistic people. It was previously known as "Autism Awareness Month," and some organizations still refer to it that way. However, autistic-led organizations and communities have long called for a shift toward "Autism Acceptance" or "Autism Appreciation" to reflect their understanding of autism as a lived experience, not an illness or condition. They are advocating for the right to lead the way in policy and research about their lives.


A non-binary femme person with red glasses, a tattoo of a pine tree, beaded earrings and a leather collar smiles warmly against a background of a log wall.

jim meunier (they/them) is autistic, and mixed Algonquin on their mom’s side. They live by the Grand River (Six Nations, and Mississaugas of the Credit territories) with a family of humans and animals, including six dogs, eight cats, and whoever else shows up hungry. jim writes about disability, Indigenous relationality and complex systems, gender, (a)sexual and relationship diversity, and land-based healing from religious and political trauma. You can find out more about them at or by emailing


This April is my mom’s birthday, and I’m excited about that. We’ve come a long way in the last few years. I feel like we’re starting to really see and accept each other: me, autistic, queer, and trans, and my mom, a socially gifted, non-autistic, cis-gendered Christian in her 70s. It took a lot of decolonizing to get to a place where it feels like our differences strengthen our relationship. 

This April is also the month that many autism organizations promote “autism awareness.” You’d think that as an autistic person, I’d be excited about that too. But I’m not. I dread it. Most autistic people I know do too. I find much of the messaging and imagery (at best) misleading, and more often hurtful and damaging.  

Think about it. If I told you my mom was “aware” of me, it sounds cold and detached. But when I talk about how my mom accepts me, that sounds more like what we’d all like to feel in our closest relationships. I can be “aware” of anything: a table, a fence, a puzzle piece. Acceptance requires more: human empathy. These days, it feels like aiming for that second one is of pretty critical importance. I’m not a puzzle piece. Nobody is. We are, first and most importantly, human beings.  

The intersection of being BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or a person of colour) and autistic can sometimes mean having to assert that twice as often, twice as loud. Indigenous Autistic people have been around for as long as Indigenous people have been around. That’s a long time. Our families and communities are diverse, and that includes the gift of neurodiversity. But getting the necessary supports can be a huge challenge, because we still find ourselves having to fight for basic services. To this day, Canada still systemically discriminates against Indigenous children and has been found to perpetrate human rights abuses specifically against Indigenous children with disabilities. We shouldn’t have to be as resilient as we have to be.   

Despite these systemic barriers and challenges, many Indigenous families continue to support and value autistic ways of being. Indigenous Autistics (often undiagnosed) are also showing up and using our gifts to contribute to our communities. This is often challenging. It can be a real challenge to be different in a community under colonial pressure. Many of us are working to heal from bullying, misunderstanding, and rejection. Autistic people without support are often more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. We need supportive families and communities, and they need us too.   

What does make me excited is that we’ve been able to leverage the internet and social media to generate collective knowledge that is useful and relevant—to us and those in our lives. We’ve created thriving and diverse networks of neurodiverse people who, for the most part, learn from and support each other. We’ve been able to push back against false narratives about us that don’t represent us, such as the idea that we are ‘trapped’ in our own world and need to be rescued.  

I’m excited when our needs and priorities take the lead, especially when it comes to research and policy that directly affects our lives. We want to be ourselves, we want autonomy over our own bodies and choices, we want to define what well-being means to us and determine our own futures. This includes our livelihood, our family and kin, and our living environments.  

That’s why I’m excited about Kelly Bron Johnson (she/they), an Autistic and Hard of Hearing self-advocate who founded Completely Inclusive and the Autistic Entrepreneurs Network in order to create the inclusivity she knew was needed in the world, as a mixed heritage, Black, and non-binary person.  

I’m excited to see a rise in Indigenous-led and created media representations, and Indigenous-led studies and research methodologies that reflect our real lives and experiences and are therefore more compelling, complex, and relevant than assumptions or stereotypes. 

I’m excited when these worlds, Indigenous and Autistic, collide in a burst of neurodivergent wonder, such as when I saw Grant Bruno’s documentary The Gift of Being Different. Grant is a Nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) member of Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, and his documentary talks about the experience of parenting Autistic children in that community. He is also a researcher who advocates for Indigenous-led, high quality research that is community-led and autistic-informed.  

I was excited to see the Gathering on Indigeneity, Neurodevelopmental Disabilities and Mental Health happen in 2023, which intentionally took a strengths-based approach and resisted a deficits-based definition. That gathering emphasized autonomy, acceptance, and inclusion, as well as the importance of recognizing family and kinship relations. And I was excited to hear about the Re·storying Autism project, which aimed to amplify the voices of those seeking to “decolonize stories of Autism beyond global North biomedical narratives of Autism as a problem in need of a professional remedy.”  

I’m excited every time something happens that brings us closer to the kind of acceptance and human empathy that leads us to see and listen to each other—all of us without exception. And I’m thankful every time we get a little closer to that, even when it still feels far away.    


~ Written by jim meunier