As we draw to the end of another Autism Awareness Month, it’s a good time to take pause and assess what this annual event means to the people that it is designed to help.
Every year for the month of April we’re inundated with fundraisers and puzzle pieces and campaigns that aim to raise awareness of the prevalence and challenges of autism, but many in the autism community feel that the message should move to one of acceptance and support rather than merely awareness.
But how do we do that? I asked some autistic people and their families to explain what acceptance would mean for them.
“People need to move beyond awareness and recognise that the experiences of autistic people are valid too. Having differences in perception and expression doesn’t make our lives any less real.” — Kaitlyn
“The biggest thing for me would be for people to stop using the R word. I hear it everywhere, adults and kids use it all the time. Just because they don’t mean it towards my child specifically doesn’t make it any less offensive or hurtful.” — Carol
“Practical links to support and a greater awareness of adults with autism who haven’t had the support of families or state systems. Practical points/strategies about what autism presents as, such as terror of the phone ringing, or someone at the door, or going somewhere new, having a conversation at the supermarket.” — Ceri
“Acceptance would feel like walking onto a busy playground and having kids respond to my autistic son’s questions, regardless of whether they are stilted or unexpected. It would feel like being able to trust that my son’s neighborhood school could meaningfully teach him in inclusion classes instead of having to place him in a specialized program elsewhere to keep him safe, happy, and educated. It would feel like not being judged for being stuck without words when I am talking to someone and can’t process at a typical speed because I am autistic.” — Jean
“I would like to see medical training for all in the health sector including dentists on how to “manage” autism. I am a late diagnosed savant. It was a friend who told me, not the doctors that I went to for help over decades. For years and years I thought I had mental health issues.” — Ceri
“Acceptance would include awareness of what Autism truly is and isn’t. I hate that so much of what we see in the name of “awareness” is negative, making people aware of this supposed evil thing that will devour your children and ruin your family. There are so many challenges that come with Autism, yes, but also so many extraordinary things. Autism isn’t a disease or an illness, its just a different wiring of the brain.” — Bethany
“I’d like schools to be more accepting of kids with autism instead of choosing to not draw attention to it because they feel that may cause more problems. It doesn’t, it makes kids like mine stand out more. My son does well watching how others behave and then modeling how to act. If these kids are constantly separated, it won’t ever get better. While they do often need separate classroom situations, the social aspect of school should be as diverse as possible.” — Carol
“As autistic women we tend to be in the minority for support or even acknowledgement. We are not Temple nor are we Rain Man. We are normal women. We have had partners (against all odds), our own children, held down jobs, struggled with fears when going to dentists, doctors, the supermarket, a new staffroom.” — Ceri
“Autism awareness, for me, is the first step towards real acceptance of autism within society. I don’t feel that we’ve yet reached the stage where the public understands either the challenges or the real potential of those living with autism. Once we’ve moved beyond ignorance and damaging stereotypes, I think we’ll be ready to really work towards meaningful inclusion.” — Linda
“If my son were not Autistic, he would be a totally different person altogether and I love him and am happy with him just the way that he is. I want him to thrive and live a full life, and I believe that is just as possible for him as it is my non autistic daughter, even if his life looks different than what others may consider ‘normal’.” — Bethany
“Acceptance would feel like we could be unapologetically ourselves wherever we are.” — Jean
Listening to experiences such as these reminds us that the while the world is already very much aware of autism, we clearly still have a long way to go towards fostering an environment that provides support and acceptance for it.
So while capturing a moment of the world’s attention every April can be a powerful tool for change, it’s important that those efforts are directed towards making the kinds of changes that will most directly benefit autistic people and their families.
Photo Source: fromcollettewithlove
About the Author
Bec Oakley is a special needs advocate, writer, blogger, and a parent of two boys with autism in Australia. Autism is part of what makes her and her kids who they are, so she’s passionate about helping people understand what it’s all about. Check out her excellent blog, Snagglebox.com.