The month of April is Autism Acceptance Month! It is not an “awareness month.”
Awareness and acceptance are different actions.
The definition for “awareness” from Google: “knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” Some synonyms for awareness include consciousness and recognition.
The definition of “acceptance” from Google: “the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group.” My favorite synonym for acceptance is welcome. (Acceptance has several definitions and uses, these are the most applicable definitions and synonyms.)
I am pretty sure that every single adult is aware of autism – aware that it exists and has a vague idea of what it is in their head (even though that idea is likely wrong thanks to inaccurate information being spread for decades). However, society as a whole does not accept autism thanks to all of the misinformation being spread.
Autism is not a disease, it is not a tragedy, and it is not “bad” nor “evil.” Unfortunately, this rhetoric is what has been spread for decades, and continues to foster a hostile environment for autistic people and autism in general.
Autism is a difference. Differences should be embraced and celebrated in a society, as they make a society rich. Autism, when distilled down to its most basic essence, is a different way of experiencing and interacting with the world. There’s nothing scary about it. The fear around autism comes from a lack of true knowledge, lack of acceptance in society, and lack of tools to help make the world more “autism friendly.” With true acceptance, there is no longer any space for fear.
If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.
– Dr. Stephen Shore
Every single person with autism experiences it differently. Autism itself is a spectrum, and every single autism trait is a spectrum within the larger spectrum. You cannot simply break autism into functional levels (functional levels are largely despised by the autistic community anyway – so please stop using them), as the level of “function” depends entirely on the situation. An autistic person could be perfectly “normal” during a 15 minute conversation in a quiet location with a single person, but have a meltdown in the middle of the chip aisle of a grocery store due to sensory overload. An autistic person could love sitting in the middle of an amusement park watching the roller coaster, but have a meltdown when they smell the nearby popcorn. An autistic person may not be capable of dressing or feeding themselves, but they create the most stunning paintings you have ever seen. An autistic person may be nonverbal, but writes the most eloquent and impactful speeches the world has ever witnessed. Every single autism is different.
These vast differences need to be accepted by society. By fearing and ostracizing them, society is robbing themselves of the richness these members bring to the table.
Listening to autistic voices – truly listening – is how we as a society move past the fear and into a place of acceptance. Please join me in pledging to only support groups that meaningfully include autistic voices in the autism conversation. (Click on the below image to sign the pledge.)
And learn more about Autism Acceptance Month from the Autism Self-Advocacy Network (and other reputable networks, listed on both of the linked pages).
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