Where We Are With Autism Acceptance
With Autism Acceptance Month having come and gone this year and Autistic Pride Day coming up, we have seen a great deal of activity. We have experienced events, conferences, and social media posts celebrating the autistic community. Over the years, there has been much debate on how the meaning of Autistic Acceptance Month can be improved. In my opinion, as an autistic person myself, I can say that there has been some improvement on how this month is represented; however, there is also still more to be done to properly celebrate and recognize the autism community.
Let me start by explaining what I feel has improved when it comes to representing us during the month of April. For starters, it is great to see that it has now become more commonly called Autistic Acceptance Month. In the past, this has always been known as Autism Awareness Month. This previous title has led to the notion that autism was a disease that needed to be cured. This ideology is dangerous and made us autistics feel that there was something wrong with us, and for many this led to years of masking. Now, more and more of us have been expressing how this month should be focused on acceptance. With that, there have been more organizations that are now acceptance-oriented.
Next, this leads to another sign of progress; the decreased use of the puzzle piece. Since 1963, the puzzle piece has been a sign for autism awareness. However, members of the autism community have expressed that this symbol holds negative connotations. Even studies have shown that more autistics see it as a negative sign than as a positive one. Most of it comes from the organization Autism Speaks’ use of it and how their so-called “advocacy” has led autism to be seen as a terrible plague. Fortunately, through the work of fellow autism self-advocates, this sign is being used less and less. I have seen more of the infinity sign. This sign represents unity and diversity, which is a much more acceptable message. Some autistics have done away with symbols altogether, which is fine by me.
Now, sorry to burst such a progressive bubble, but I want to address some of the things that still need to be worked on. First, I feel that there has been much lip service that occurs during this month. For instance, many organizations and corporations have given their time and money to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month. They use this time to say how much they admire autistic and other neurodivergent individuals. However, after this month is over, it seems like they throw us to the curb. They do not learn from the autistic community after the month is over, including how autistics would be beneficial for the workplace. Things such as this are a factor in why autistics and other neurodivergents have a high unemployment rate.
Secondly, and most importantly, I still feel that the voices of the autistic community are not being heard. In the past, the autistic voices that we did hear seemed to have come from a certain background. However, there are many autistic voices that come from all walks of life. There are autistics who are from rural areas and from urban cities. They come from many races and religions. Some are from the LGBTQ+ community. There are even those who are part of the mental health community. All these voices have a story to tell and we need to hear them. Many are speaking out to have these voices heard and, fortunately, we are hearing day by day.
Well, what is the verdict? Personally, I feel that we have come a long way when it comes to how the autism community is being represented during Autism Acceptance Month. However, as with many things, there is still much work that needs to be done. Let us hope that more progress is made when next April comes around. I hope to celebrate with you then.
Getty image by Anna Semenchenko