Chris Bonnello, a former teacher with Asperger’s syndrome, was the winner of Anna Kennedy Online charity’s Autism Charity Hero Awards ‘Online Social Network Award ‘ category in 2018.
Chris runs an extremely popular Facebook page called ‘Autistic Not Weird’ and he has created a wonderful community through all his work. Chris now has over 100k followers on Facebook alone, he also runs two private support groups online and creates a safe, friendly and inclusive place for everyone to find support and make friends.
Both Chris and I have been on social media for many years and we both agree that, regrettably there has always been bullying, abuse and even harassment in the wider autism community. The problem is that these highly regrettably trends are now getting worse. There appears to be a huge storm of hatred that has been brewing; it is almost like people are trying to widen the existing divides within the autism community as much as possible.
In the last few days, no fewer than FIVE of Chris’ blogger friends have either quit blogging or are tempted to do so. The one reason they all have in common is that they just don’t want to deal with the toxicity anymore as it is too stressful.
Chris has shared the following with his community group:
‘Parent friends of mine who have blogged about their family’s experiences – including *autistic* parents of autistic kids – are exhausted after not being able to make a post without someone judging/harassing/bullying them. Sometimes that person’s an autistic adult, and sometimes they are just a “better parent” who likes looking down on others. I was planning this post; a hate page was created specifically to bring down a harmless autistic blogger. Separately, another friend had to call the police this week because of online harassment.
I’ve discussed the reasons for abuse and toxicity in the autism community in a couple of my articles, but here’s the short version: too many people have been hurt for too long by too many other people. Nearly everything discussed in the autism community is discussed against a backdrop of hurt, and that hurt can range between family rejection, domestic violence, mental health difficulties, and societal judgement in general. This means the autistic person (or their relative) on the other side of the screen is likely to be more vulnerable than you think. ‘
Chris produces articles covering autism – related topics including SATs and exams advice, mental health issues and about growing up autistic. Chris has published a book called ‘What we love most about life’ which features 150 children with an ASD answering the question in the book’s title. The book has been valuable to many children and adults making them feel less alone.
Both Anna and Chris spoke in Manchester last year at ‘Autotrader’ highlighting Autism and Employment.
In recent weeks and months, we have been approached by many of our followers who are parents, carers and autistic adults. They are voicing their concerns and fears of posting messages whether they are personal messages, articles or posts on their social media especially Facebook and Twitter. We share their concerns. Messages shared with us reveal that many people are being bullied and attacked when posting their personal experiences or articles they may find of interest to themselves or others.
Chris said: “In my opinion unfortunately, people react to negative experiences in different ways. Some people with an ASD react to a lifetime of hurt by campaigning to make sure nobody else must go through what they did. Others just pass the hurt onward by abusing whoever they see on the internet. And some genuinely believe they’re doing the former, while they’re doing the latter.
Likewise, some parents of autistic children react to years of judgement by providing the best guidance possible to other people who are being judged. Others react by admonishing adults with an ASD for being “not like my child”. We both don’t know when the internet collectively decided that judgement and being ‘the voice of all reason’ was more effective than outreach, but we both strongly refuse to play this game and would advise others to do the same. That does not mean we do not respect or do not want to hear about the lived experience of people with an ASD.
Chris said “’I’d like to believe I run a community who feels the same way. We run personal and community pages groups and we want it to be a fun and supportive way to raise autism awareness and acceptance.”
Chris told Anna that “when people started pointing out that his group Autistic Not Weird was the ‘only place in the autism community they felt safe’, running his page became a responsibility above all else. And with all this antagonism going on in the wider autism community, I think friendlier places like this have a duty to weather the storm”
Anna then asked Chris ‘What can we do to make sure our pages are the best they can be?
Chris shared a few ideas.
- Click here to read the community guidelines his group Autistic Not Weird.
- Remember that the number of vulnerable people in the autism community is enormous, so act accordingly and with empathy and compassion.
- Remember that different people are in different scenarios, so different issues may need different solutions. And that’s ok.
- Finally if you see abuse on Autistic Not Weird or AnnaKennedyonline, please either tag Chris or Anna send us a PM. Tagged comments get seen faster, and PMs get seen in our personal account’s notifications. Don’t rely on us just seeing nasty comments naturally, because we are both less able to see everything these days.
Both Anna’s and Chris’ Facebook Community Pages are those rare pages where everyone is welcome: autistic people, their relatives, professionals, and people with no link to autism who want to learn about it. And if life has dealt you a tough hand, you’re especially welcome. Some of the best people we know claim to be “broken” (in their words) at the same time as going to extraordinary efforts to help and guide those around them. And the most trustworthy people we both know are the ones who aren’t afraid to listen to others’ perspectives.
We would both like to thank everyone who reads this joint article.
‘Autistic Not Weird‘ and ‘AnnaKennedyonline‘ have been wonderful pages to run, and we have no doubt we can both play an important part in trying to bring the autism community together and to the best of our ability.
Please note : One very important thing to remember is that, if members of our community are constantly seen to be in conflict, this weakens our effectiveness. Indeed, it may only reinforce negative but inaccurate preconceptions about people with an Autism spectrum condition.
By Chris Bonnello and Anna Kennedy OBE