April can be a painful and tricky month for Autistic people and their loved ones. Why? Because it is : Autism Awareness Month. Those of you that are new to the Autism community may find that strange. Even as an Autistic person myself, I found this odd at first. The truth is, there can be trauma around this idea of Autism awareness. There are many awareness months that people appreciate and love, so why is this one so complicated?
To understand, let’s dig into Autism history. Autism like most neurological differences was first defined by people who are not in fact Autistic. This led to many misunderstandings as to what Autism truly is. Autism advocacy was done by parents, professionals and loved ones that also did not understand. When you don’t understand it is hard to advocate effectively. Early Autism research and advocacy focused on curing and preventing Autistic people. Out of these efforts Autism Awareness Month was born.
It’s important to note that not all Autistic people feel the same about this topic. While some Autistic people want a cure or to prevent Autism, the vast majority do not. You may have notice I am using what is called Identity First Language by referring to Autistic people instead of using Person First Language and referring to people with Autism. This is another area where there are discrepancies. Some prefer Person First Language while the majority of Autistic people Prefer Identity First Language. Why does this matter and how does it relate to Autism Awareness? It matters because we see Autism as an intrinsic part of who we are, not something we carry or deal with. We don’t know who we are without it because it is a major piece of our identity. Furthermore, many of us actually like who we are.
For these reasons and more, Autism Awareness Month can feel like a bombardment of reminders that people don’t really want us as we are. Please don’t misunderstand we have many challenges because we are Autistic and those can be painful and hard for us and our loved ones. We also have strengths that we would hate to lose. Research has shown that many of us can thrive if we have accommodations that allow us to be ourselves rather than try to change our innate neurology to fit into societal norms. While these accommodations are important for inclusion and provide us equitable access it doesn’t remove the challenges we have. Those challenges will still be with us. But what it does provide is acceptance. Acceptance is greater than awareness and the driving force behind changing Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month.
Autistic led organizations like ASAN, AWN, Neuroclastic, Thinking person’s guide to Autism, Aucademy; like to say nothing for us without us. One of the challenges in disability advocacy in general and Autism advocacy specifically is too often it is dominated by people that are not in the community. This does not mean we don’t want loved ones and professionals advocating. Instead, we ask they listen to those that live it from the inside. We want to be accepted as people worth accommodating rather than problems to be fixed.
Autistic people are a diverse group. The spectrum is not a straight line but rather a wheel with many spikes that are each a mini spectrum. Learn more about the spectrum, here. If you have met an Autistic person, you have met one Autistic person. We are each our own person, just like everyone else.
If you are looking to further Autism Acceptance, the organizations mentioned above are great resources. And as always, check out our Meme page.