April 2nd is recognized around the world as Autism Awareness Day, but many in the autistic community are pushing for it to be formally changed to Autism Acceptance Day. Why is this word change so significant?
Awareness vs. Acceptance
Awareness is having knowledge and understanding that something exists, which is important for sure, yet acceptance goes one step further, giving approval of that something.
For example, you might be aware that someone needs assistance, but that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything about it. If you accept that someone needs assistance, it means you’re helping them.
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, is currently recognized by the NIH as being diagnosed for 1 in 44 children; that’s 2.3% of the population. In the year 2023, everyone is aware of autism in their lives.
This is the driving force for the language change: if everyone is already aware of autism’s prevalence in the community, then they’re ready to move onto accepting autism in the community.
When Did This Change Start?
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) has been framing the entire month of April as Autism Acceptance Month since 2011, stating, “Acceptance of autism as a natural condition in the human experience is necessary for real dialogue to occur.”
Over the years, many other autism organizations have joined the campaign such as: the Administration for Community Living, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Autistic Women and Non-Binary Network, Easter Seals, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), and The Arc.
In 2021, Gersh Autism first posted about Autism Acceptance Month. In our blog, we wrote, “Gersh Autism’s vision is ‘a world where individuals on the autism spectrum are empowered to thrive.’ That starts with us, as a society, fully embracing individuals on the spectrum into our community.”
Autism acceptance is recognizing that there’s nothing lesser about the person who goes to a concert and wears headphones because it’s just a bit too loud. It’s sharing a smile with the little boy in line at the ice cream parlor flapping his hands and moaning in excitement. It’s engaging your avoidant colleague in a conversation about their favorite movie as they smile and stare down at their shoes. It’s providing a bin of fidgets for congregants in church to use during services. It’s listening to the valedictorian speak at graduation through their AAC tablet they use as their voice. It’s watching the president address the nation with a sign language interpreter at his side. It’s building quiet Sensory Rooms for people to retreat to in case they feel overwhelmed in busy public spaces like airports and theme parks.
More simply put, it’s creating a supportive and welcoming world for all neurodiverse and differently abled people.
There is a well-known saying in the autism community, “If you’ve met one person with autism… you’ve met one person with autism.” What this means is that everyone is different. There is no one “poster child” for autism spectrum disorder. Having autism simply means that someone’s brain works a little differently. Understanding and embracing any of those differences is our goal.
Many in the autistic community are pushing for this shift in not just language, but mindset. After all, that’s the driving force here. As our students with autism grow, we hope they will know a world where their challenges are understood, their strengths are admired, and what they bring into the community at large is rightfully appreciated.