Why I Believe It's Time to Ask for More Than Autism Awareness
I first heard about the movement to call April “Autism Acceptance Month” instead of “Autism Awareness Month” this year, in the last few days of March. Coincidentally, it was also the time that I truly began to accept my early struggles with peer acceptance as a child with undiagnosed autism. For many years, I held onto the upset I felt around the bullying I endured beginning in second grade. We didn’t know I had autism at the time, because back then there was little awareness.
It all began when the best friend I met at age 2 moved to another state over summer vacation. I was so traumatized by the change that I refused to play with any of the other kids in the neighborhood. This upset another girl down the street, so on the first day of third grade, she managed to talk all the other kids into snubbing me. No one would talk to me the entire day. I believe it was because of my autism that I didn’t understand why, and I didn’t react the way they expected. That was the day it seemed the bullies learned I was the most fun target of them all.
I held onto that anger for years, but I let it go last week when someone posted a picture of our sixth grade class on Facebook. One of the people who commented on it was that girl from down the street. And she sent me a friend request.
In that moment, I realized that her 7-year-old self probably felt snubbed. She was probably hurting that summer because her friend was ignoring her. She had no idea how the other kids would run with it. She moved on and made new friends just like any other kid would. I was the one who was stuck in a world without awareness, without the support that, as an autism advocate, I now fight for to help the kids who have come after me.
I accepted that friend request, and in less than one week, we’ve had some amazing conversations that make me realize what life could have been like if my parents had known why I was acting that way back in the summer of ’82, and had been able to get me the proper support. I now accept that it wasn’t that little girl’s fault any more than it was my fault. It was the lack of awareness. But we have awareness now. And I agree with my peers. It’s time to ask for more than awareness. It’s time to fight for acceptance so that every child can be accepted for who they are.
Every child and adult on the autism spectrum deserves to get the support they need from family and schools. Every child deserves to be happy to go to school to learn and not be bullied. Every adult deserves to have a family and a job without having to be “in the closet” about their diagnosis. We are wired this way. Accept it.