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The Difference Between Autism Awareness and Acceptance

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I believe awareness and acceptance come from opposite outlooks. Awareness seeks to outline how we are and enhances the differences and distance between ways of being. Acceptance looks into commonalities we share and the strength inherent in diversity.

I believe many people who search for awareness eventually have the goal of connecting the gap by making autistic people more like them. Awareness is about the problems and the challenges that usually are experienced within neurotypical. It also functions in stereotypes and soundbites, not real people. Awareness is easy, and acceptance takes a lot of effort.

I know many people who are aware. Awareness, as I said, is easy. I can simply get a couple of hundred people to wear a puzzle ribbon to support Autism Awareness. It’s not hard to get people to recognize a word and a few associated factoids. Enough to tell an autistic adult like me that I look “normal,” but not enough to understand that what they think they know about autism is wrong.

I also know people who are accepting. They had to work harder than wearing a ribbon and hearing that children with autism may not understand everything, have meltdowns from frustration, or need things specially modified. I would face many instances of discrimination because I had autism and I would be called offensive words. I would tolerate hearing that autism is a disease, which it’s not. Becoming aware is a one-time thing and spreading awareness doesn’t involve a whole lot of thinking. But acceptance is a constant, lifelong process.

Acceptance is a type of understanding. Acceptance requires confronting situations that can be uncomfortable, wondering about why it makes you uncomfortable and confronting any prejudice even if it causes more discomfort. To accept us all is to make a mindful effort to see past prejudice and to recognize people with autism are human after all. Accepting people with autism involves moving past impressions and harsh insults. It involves trying to understand us by trying to know who we are.

People who accept me have made a sensible effort to not just know I learn differently, but to relate to why I do. I don’t stop what I am doing because I’m lazy, I stop because things can be extremely challenging and confusing. If I am very overwhelmed, just be a helping hand to guide me through it. Acceptance is supporting my oddities instead of judging them. People who accept me would much rather see me happy and not miserable.

I wish acceptance was not just a goal, but reality. I want to live in a world where I am not judged because I see things differently or shamed due to not meeting others’ criteria for “normalcy.” This is my world too. My life is filled with people who know I have autism and accept me for who I am. They see me as a smart, hardworking, hilarious, kind person, and someone who has a lot of perseverance. In my ideal world, weird behaviors or struggles will be just as acceptable as smiling. In that world, neurodiversity will be a way that people are unique, and everyone will agree that diversity is part of what makes the world so beautiful.

Getty image by Fizkes.

Originally published: August 31, 2020
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