Autism Acceptance NOT Autism Awareness
By Stefanie Crawford, IDEA Digital Storyteller | Professional Learning Coordinator
April 1 means Autism Acceptance month NOT Autism Awareness month. If this idea is new to you, it's imperative that you start centering Autistic voices and listening to what many in the Autistic community are asking for. Your INTENT is NOT greater than the IMPACT on the community.
Like any community, not every autistic person has the same opinion; however, when you listen to the majority of the autistic voices, you’ll find a few things they wish neurotypical people would understand and take action to change. Here are few things Autistic people are asking you to keep in mind this April and beyond:Acceptance not awareness
- “When I hear awareness, it makes me think it’s something I need to stay away from.” - Gabe, autistic 14-year-old
- Autism isn’t a disease, and autistic people don’t need to be cured. The world is aware that autistic people exist; now the world needs to accept autistic people for who they are and not expect them to change for the neurotypical world we live in.
Identify-first language is vastly preferred, "the Autistic person"
- Autism isn’t a disease, and autism is part of who they are. In surveys conducted, a vast majority of autistic respondents consistently prefer identify-first language while non-autistic people tend to think they’re honoring the person with person-first language. This isn’t the time to say, “My cousin has autism, and she wouldn’t like that.” Again, there is never one voice that can act as the ONLY voice for a group. If your cousin, friend, neighbor, partner, etc. prefers person-first language, use it with them! But know that unless an autistic person tells you their preference, the majority of the autistic community wants identity-first language. This means that in the example above, it should be, “My cousin is autistic,” not “My cousin has autism.”
- Aspergers is no longer a medically recognized diagnosis. If you look into the history of Aspergers, you’ll see a label rooted in eugenics and raising one autistic person as better over another.
Autism is not a linear spectrum
- The linear spectrum visual leads us to think of autistic people in terms of functioning labels. Those labeled “high functioning” run the risk of being denied accommodations because “they don’t seem autistic.” Those labeled “low functioning” run the risk of having their true strengths overlooked. See how an autistic person describes that here. And check out the visual below to see the autism spectrum as a circle - the preferred depiction.
ABA is abuse
- ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) is an approach that creates autistic adults dealing with PTSD. It relies on autistic people hiding who they are through constant masking and teaches them that they're somehow "wrong." Many neurotypical caretakers may say that they feel their autistic children are benefitting from ABA therapy, but it is the autistic adults who have gone through ABA therapy we should be listening to in order to see the damage this causes.
Autism Speaks is NOT an ally to the Autistic community
- This one might be a surprise to you, but it’s a very important one. They promote ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) tactics, the puzzle piece, and the color blue, all of which many in the Autistic community abhor and find damaging.
- They don’t have oversight by the autistic community.
Stop using the color blue
- Autism is not a disease they're suffering with; it is part of who they are. The color blue brings with it the idea of grief. The autistic community has chosen red as a color that shows passion and life, so with that in mind, use #RedInstead or even #LightItUpGold.
Stop using the puzzle piece
- The puzzle piece insinuates that something is missing. Nothing is missing from an autistic person, or any neurodivergent person for that matter, which is why the switch to the infinity symbol is preferred.
Use the rainbow or gold infinity symbol to support acceptance
- The ribbon is associated with diseases. - Think about the vehicles you see driving around with magnetic ribbons on them. They’re not to make you celebrate something; they exist to remind you of the disease that can claim lives.
Stimming isn't bad
- Stimming helps people process their situation and the information they’re taking in. Stimming can be a calming function or help to process an influx of emotion.
- Asking someone to mask who they are to fit into a neurotypical world isn't okay - for example, stop forcing eye contact or encouraging someone to look at the wall past the shoulder of who they're speaking to.
Support creators/artists who are autistic and learn from autism advocate organizations run by autistic people
- That t-shirt you want to buy to show your support, was it created by an Autistic person?
- On Facebook? Consider joining the Autism Inclusivity Facebook group that has autistic adults willing to help educate neurotypical parents, caregivers, and educators. When in these spaces, it’s important to remember that your neurotypical voice and experiences do NOT take precedence over the experiences of the autistic people offering you free advice and answers to questions.
- Follow organizations like Neuroclastic that are run by autistic people and talk about autism according to autistic people.