Autism Awareness Isn’t Enough: The Case for Autism Acceptance Month

This blog in particular was originally going to be about my experiences with the post office, but I’d rather save that for when I know my trials and tribulations with them are through and the shirts are in people’s hands, so instead I want to talk about a topic that’s very personal to me and part of what inspired me to create The ‘Tism to begin with: the idea of “Autism Awareness” , and more specifically, my issues with the idea.

See, when I was diagnosed with autism and during the time I grew up, autism wasn’t nearly as well known as it is now. In fact, I’d say that I grew up in a time where people were only starting to get a hint as to what autism really was and the idea of it being a thing was only just starting to hit the mainstream. I’d need to double check on the particulars of that history, but in general, autism, and the idea of autistic people being well…people, was still a rather alien concept to many, as I would learn firsthand. In this time, the idea of “Autism Awareness” and spreading information about what autism was and how to deal with it and what it generally entailed wasn’t necessarily a bad one, as a good amount of people, at least from my experience growing up, didn’t know. But at the same time, all it did was promote awareness of autism rather than actively promote acceptance or understanding of what it entailed, and more often than not, it was neurotypical people talking about autistic people in ways that were…let’s just say they were often patronizing at best and viewing us as burdens at absolute worst (the organization that shall not be named being one of those). Do not get me wrong, during this time, there were some very notable “Autism Advocates”, whom were autistic people that directly talked about their own experiences with it, people like John Elder Robison (Author of Look Me in the Eye) and Temple Grandin (Animal Rights advocate and subject of a pretty decent movie starring Claire Danes), but they were a small handful, at least from my personal experiences, and more often than not, they were unfortunately held up as what a “typical” autistic person was supposed to be. They did great work, and I highly recommend learning about them and listening to their experiences, as they are rather poignant, but in general, this time period, and to a certain extent, the idea of “Autism Awareness” was one that always entailed to me the idea of autistic people being talked about rather than letting their voices being heard, of the condition being treated as a thing that had to be “dealt with” by the person in question, but also those around them. It came across, and still does to a degree, as less acceptance and more tolerance. But at least in this time I can somewhat understand the need for “Autism Awareness” as again, it wasn’t something that was extremely well known or understood.

But with that being said, times have changed quite radically. There have been great leaps made in understanding the particular nuances of autism, and not only that, but autism diagnoses are far more common than they ever were when I was growing up. Autism has gone from being a little known disorder to practically a household name. As my mom often says, “everyone knows someone”, which means that everyone knows someone with autism, or that everyone knows someone who knows someone and so on. But furthermore, thanks to the rise of social media, now autistic people (like myself) can actually be heard on a larger basis than could have ever been imagined, and our experiences and perspectives can be shared with the world on sites like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and so on. So, looking at it from this perspective, I don’t think that “Autism Awareness” holds much ground anymore, because frankly, most people are aware of autism in one form or another. What I think needs to replace it is Autism Acceptance, because it’s one thing to be aware of autism and autistic people and their experiences and problems and what have you, and it’s another to actually accept and understand those things. I know all too well the experience of being looked at differently or as “lesser” because of my autism, whether it be growing up or even when I’m an adult, and I know I’m certainly not alone in that, and I know people whose parents or SOs or what have you try to actively deny or suppress autistic traits in those around them because while they are aware of those traits, they do not accept them. I think now more than ever, what we need is acceptance. That is why I think that something like Autism Awareness Month should be changed to Autism Acceptance Month instead, and looking at tags on social media, I know I am not alone in thinking this.

In fact, part of what inspired The ‘Tism to begin with was this desire to get yet another autistic voice out there and to not only share and relate my experiences to other autistic people, but also help neurotypical people understand and accept autism and autistic people for who and what we are, all of it. I wanted this brand to be first and foremost about promoting a message of autism positivity, of the idea that autistic people are people just like anyone else, and that it’s not only okay to be autistic, but it’s something you can take pride in, that you can enjoy and laugh about and be seen as a good thing rather than as a burden. I want to give to others the acceptance and understanding that I received growing up, but that I know far too few others got as well.

This blog was probably a bit scatterbrained and weirdly organized, but it’s something I really wanted to get out there, as I felt it was important not only to me, but other autistic people as well.

Shame I couldn’t have gotten it out in April, but that’s what writing a 104 page thesis will do to you.

– Eric