Written by Kait Kuzio, Assistive Technology Coordinator
World Autism Awareness day was on April 2nd this year, and The Autism Society of America (the country’s oldest grassroots autism organization) is proudly celebrating Autism Acceptance Month this April with the theme #CelebrateDifferences. (1) While April has not yet been federally designated as Autism Acceptance Month, it is widely recognized and celebrated as such throughout the U.S.
This year, The Autism Society of America has placed heavy emphasis on the importance of shifting our terminology and fostering real change to help individuals and families affected by autism through acceptance and support. “Acceptance,” says Christopher Banks, President and CEO of The Autism Society of America, “is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.” (2) Many other advocacy organizations have adapted their terminology from “awareness” to “acceptance,” such as The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), which made the change 11 years ago. “Acceptance of autism as a natural condition in the human experience,” ASAN commented, “is necessary for real dialogue to occur.” (3) According to Isabel Alexander in STATNews, the switch from “awareness” to “acceptance” is important because it “recognizes that awareness is an important first step, but one that can get us only so far. The real mission should be to integrate people with autism into our social fabric, not just recognize that they exist.” (4)
The Autism Society of America’s 2021 theme, Celebrate Differences, serves as a further call to action—to bring awareness, bring acceptance, and celebrate those unique differences. While awareness of neurodiversity is a goal that we continue to carry and strive for, we have to make sure our acceptance and awareness lead to real change. The Autism Society “recognizes that the prevalence of autism in the United States has risen from 1 in 125 children in 2010 to 1 in 54 in 2020.” (2) Just being aware isn’t enough. All of these terms (like “acceptance,” “awareness,” and “integration”) are active and on-going behaviors. They’re ways of thinking and acting, not bullet points we accomplish, cross off, and move on from.
ASAN released a statement on the tenth anniversary of Autism Acceptance Month that put it well:
“Acceptance is an action, and it goes beyond changing the language we use. In order to truly practice autism acceptance, autism organizations must also change how they think about autism, and how they work to represent autistic people. Working toward acceptance means recognizing autistic people ourselves, not just our family members, as a core constituency. It means including autistic people in meaningful leadership positions throughout an organization — on staff, in senior leadership, and on the board. It means aligning advocacy and research priorities with the priorities of the autistic community.” (3)
The Autism Society of America encourages folks who are active on social media to use the hashtag #IAMME to share photos that highlight the strengths of individuals with autism at any time, but especially during the month of April!
While we’re on the subject of terminology and change, this is a great opportunity for a quick awareness note about person-first language. For example, person-first language would suggest that “person with autism” is preferable to and more respectful than “autistic person.” Many autistic folks, however, prefer “autistic” over “person with autism.” Some have pointed out that person-first language separates the individual from their autism and suggests that “autism” has a negative connotation from which the person needs to be separated, which doesn’t align with their lived realities.
For more information about autism and Autism Acceptance Month 2021 and for ways you can GET INVOLVED, visit: Autism Society of America (autismacceptance.org)