On April 2, we’ll be celebrating Autism Awareness Day.
Gratitude: Be Thankful For How Far Society Has Come
Autism Speaks is a polarizing organization!
To be sure, there’s a lot of misinformation coming out of there.
But it’s important to celebrate increased awareness of autism.
In the words of my colleague, Violet,
As I have observed over time, Autism Speaks was a voice for those unable to speak. Any group that grows will eventually have conflicting priorities. It seems to me that if the whole world knows what blue lights and puzzle pieces are about- much has been accomplished. what is needed now is the next steps of awareness, the hows and whys of meaningful communication on all sides.
Autism Acceptance: The Next Step For Autism Day
Celebrating an autism day is not enough. Awareness by itself is insufficient.
Apartheid was a system of segregation enforced by legislation. It kept the white Afrikaaners in control as the dominant party from 1948 to 1994. Through Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment and struggles, democracy finally came to South Africa.
Through slavery, United States Caucasians controlled African people from 1619 – 1865. However, the civil rights movement took years of constant struggle to overcome the effects of racism, culminating in the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
In the same way that racism has held peoples hostage in societies, misinformation often leads to discrimination and inequity for minority groups in our country: including autistics.
We need to combine autism awareness with autism acceptance.
Everyone should transform autism awareness day into autism acceptance action every single day.
I’m indebted to Amethyst Schaber and Shannon Des Roches Rosa Souza for showing us how to honor autism awareness day with acceptance and action.
In this video, Amethyst Schaber, a 24 year old autistic woman and activist, opened my eyes to the difference between autism awareness and autism acceptance.
First, autism awareness day has too often spread misinformation about autistics. Many of the people who’ve promoted autism awareness come from a place of love, but from a limited point of view.
Too often, those who promote autism awareness think that autism needs to be cured, or loved ones who see autism as something to be cured.
Even though the effort to raise awareness comes from a place of love, this view of autism has mistakenly spread the view of autistics as “sick, broken, missing, kidnapped, suffocating under layer of autism that parents have to fight and combat.” (quote from Amethyst Schaber)
What we need, instead, just as the civil rights movement needed minority voices, is autism awareness with acceptance.
How can we promote autism acceptance?
Take the negative brand of awareness and turn it around.
1. Read up on the history of autism acceptance month.
2. Highlight autistic people and voices, both verbal and non-verbal, rather than non-autistic people talking bout autistic people without them — enabling non-autistics to view autism from an autistic’s point of view.
Call to Action:
Tweet out these articles, whose authors deserved to be heard:
Now that we know Why Autism Awareness needs to include Autism Acceptance, how can we honor autism acceptance day on April 2, and on every day of the year?
Helpful Actions From Autism Advocates – Shannon Des Roches Rosa Souza and Amethyst Schaber
1. Non-autistics – learn how to truly empathize with and listen to autistics in your life.
In Behavior Is Communication: Are You Listening, Aspergian author Cynthia Kim points out that autistics communicate in many ways. The problem is that non-autistics assume they are not.
There may be different types of stims for different types of moods, both positive and negative.
We non-autistics can appreciate it may take longer for autistics to process through what they are feeling and thinking. Writing or drawing may be easier ways to convey their thoughts and feelings.
2. Promote competence.
Start by affirming personhood. In Amethyst’s words, “Autistics are full, whole people, who possess full personhood, deserving the same thoughts as every other person, with thoughts, feelings, motivations”.
Focus on your child or partner’s strengths, including their interests.
Don’t seek to overprotect your child or partner from trying new things.
3. Advocate for a more inclusive, diverse, more autistic society
Go to the autism acceptance month website, and share it with others. Tweet it out, post it on Facebook.
Use some of the ideas to promote acceptance during autism awareness month.
Find out if there is an ASAN chapter near you and get involved.
Donate to local ASAN or like chapter.
4. Study These Tips For Self-Acceptance from the WikiHow – “How to Accept Your Autism”
A) Learn about your personal strengths.
Tip: Read my article, 6 Best Free Strength Test Sites to start discovering your personal strengths.
B) Learn about autistic strengths – deeply passionate interests, helpfulness , precision, visual intelligence, sincerity, unique perspective.
Here’s a great article that applies to kids as well as adults: 50 Positive Characteristics of Aspergers.
C) Understand that you may be disabled, and also understand the social model of disability.
You can read more about this idea in this article by Cynthia Kim about her evolving sense of self.
D) Learn personal growth strategies that work for you. Sensory integration therapies, talk therapy, occupational therapy, and talking to a counselor who understands autism are some possiblities.
E) Practice self-compassion.
- Pushing yourself to meet non-autistic standards will only take a toll on your health. It is okay to ask for academic accommodations, take extra breaks, or quit doing things that are too stressful to achieve.
- Pay extra attention to general health advice: sleep for at least 8 hours, eat fruits and vegetables, limit junk food, minimize stress, and exercise regularly (taking walks counts). Self-care is extra important for you, to mitigate stress and help with meltdowns.
- If you have trouble with self-care, it’s okay to ask for help. Assisted living, a group home, or living with family might be better for you. Talk with a doctor, social worker, or therapist if you’re struggling. There’s no shame in meeting your needs, and it’ll free up time for things you love.
Personal Responsibility: Integrating Awareness and Acceptance
What am I trying to say here?
I’m voicing the opinions of many in the autism community who are concerned that those in the autism acceptance camp may swing too far in one direction.
Sometimes activists voices can take on a demanding and disrespectful tone.
This is what many of my autistic friends object to.
In the words of a colleague:
We do still have a ways to go. However, to demand respect and acceptance while “acting ” disrespectful and unaccepting of others is equally unaware of differences. Having experience with people with a variety of labels, the key to connecting and growing is understanding what a behavior means for each person. How do I know I am safe when I see “threatening” behavior? How do they know they are safe with me? This is very hard to do quickly. A spectrum makes the challenge harder-the wider the spectrum, the bigger the challenge. Finally it is common for anniversaries of any kind to stir up painful emotions we thought we had already processed. So April 2nd, may have many people emotional more than usual. My hope is to advocate understanding.
Thanks to another member of the Thrive community for sharing this article, written by 1960’s civil rights activist Barbara Reynolds. “I was a Civil Rights Activist in the 1960’s: But it’s hard for me to get behind Black Lives Matter.”
Injustice can breed anger and cynicism. Gandhi and Martin Luther King were powerful because of their principled and non-violent, yet persistent protest efforts.
In the same way, as an autistic community speaking out against injustice, let’s fight hate with love, and fear with courage.
How are you going to celebrate World Autism Day?
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photo credit: Yoori Koo