April has been widely known as “Autism Awareness Month” in the United States for many years. This action originally sought to empower autistic individuals and their families. Recently, the autism community, along with many non-profit organizations like Autism Society, have called for a shift in language. These groups want to change the "awareness" piece to "acceptance" because of the growing need for acceptance within the community. Acceptance is becoming more important, especially since nearly everyone has some sort of familiarity and exposure to the term "autism."
According to the Autism Society, autism is defined as “a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships and self-regulation. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a ‘spectrum condition’ that affects people differently and to varying degrees.” Additionally, the World Health Organization claims that “more than 3.5 million Americans live with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
Because this month is Autism Awareness Month, social media platforms have been overloaded with people calling to #LightItUpBlue, which is a slogan that is based on the sexist idea that more men and boys are diagnosed with autism. This idea originates from the group Autism Speaks, which shockingly places more focus on finding a cure for autism (even though, among other reasons why this is negative, it is proven that it cannot be cured) rather than advocating for the inclusion of people with autism in society. Instead of using the color blue during Autism Awareness Month, #RedInstead is being promoted by the autistic community to show that autism affects all genders.
You can listen to me talk about the importance of autism acceptance all day long, but let’s face it: I am a non-autistic person myself and therefore do not have a personal story of autism. These quotes from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network explain what autism acceptance often means to those on the autism spectrum:
“Autism acceptance means embracing autism as a natural part of the spectrum of human diversity and accepting autism as one of many different legitimate, meaningful and valuable ways of experiencing the world. Autism acceptance means believing that autism doesn’t need to be fixed or cured for autistics to be happy and live good lives.
Autism acceptance means treating autistic people as members of a minority group who are entitled to the same rights as everyone else. It means changing the goal for autistics from ‘indistinguishability’ or ‘recovery’ to living with needed support and gaining equal opportunity with neurotypicals — supporting autistics as they are. It means helping autistic children grow into autistic adults, rather than mourning the nonexistent neurotypical child they never were.”
Autism acceptance starts with making a conscious effort in letting autistic people know that we, as a society, are not only aware that they exist, but also want to celebrate their strengths, who they are and what they contribute as well as show them that they are valued. I invite you to do this, not just during Autism Acceptance Month but all year long.
By Rania Abushakra, Staff Writer