Kayla Smith and the Importance of Representation in the Autism Movement
In light of Black History Month, it is essential to recognize and celebrate Black individuals and their intersection with neurodiverse voices. As we move towards a culture and society constructed through the collaboration of different voices, we must amplify voices that are marginalized and underrepresented.
Kayla Smith is a Black Autistic Disability Rights Advocate who never thought that she would be an advocate. Smith joined Twitter five years ago in hope to “find some people” whose experiences she could relate to but was surprised to find very little.
Currently, Smith has about 13,500 followers and has been using her platform to end the stigma around disability and autism and disability.
Through her TikTok series called “Did You Know That Person has a Disability,” she speaks about the experiences of famous people in history with disabilities to help others with disabilities understand that they are not alone with their struggles. Smith has collaborated with the Disability Rights Network, shared her life experiences on YouTube, and explained the need for Black representation in the autism movement on podcasts,
During Smith’s journey in educating herself, she was shocked about the vast disparities in the neurodiverse community.
In an interview with In The Know, Smith said, “As I learned about disparities when it comes to autism and people who are diagnosed — especially with people of color — I decided to create the hashtag [#AutsiticBlackPride]”
Created in 2017, #AutisticBlackPride continues to generate buzz from worldwide in the Twitter community, being widely used by influencers, celebrities, and activists.
“Two years after I put it up, people started loving it. [People told me], ‘Finally we have a hashtag for us,'” Smith recalls later in the interview.
In the United States, the need for representation like Smith is critical to bring more attention to the experiences of people of color with autism. According to the Organization for Autism Research, Black children are 19 percent comparative to their white counterparts to be diagnosed with autism, with Latinx children at a sharp 65 percent. Smith also reflects on the lack of representation she sees in the media and television with shows like “The Good Doctor” and “Atypical,” in which when thinking about neurodiverse representation, these shows center around white neurodiverse individuals leading to a lack of representation for neurodiverse people of color.
While Smith speaks about how overwhelming the attention of being an advocate can be, she does not lose faith in a future of diverse representation.
“I just want to be a role model for a future generation, whether I impact their lives or not,” she said to In The Know. “Especially those who look like me. [So they know], ‘You’re in this too. I’m here. Be you.’ I want to be that example.”
Her recommendations for non-autistic allies to support the Black Autistic community?
“The book called “All the weight of our dreams on living racialized autism,” people to follow on Twitter are Timotheus Gordon and his blog The black Autist, Finn Gardner (@phineasfrogg), Morenike Giwa Onaiwa (@MorenikeGO), Riah Person (@lilrirah), @autisminblack (neurotypical parent), Jennifer White Johnson (@jtknoxroxs), Tyla Grant (@tylgrnt) and her YouTube channel Autistic Tyla, and many more.”