Celebrate Autism!: Why "Awareness" Has Got to Go

Let me state right now that I am not against awareness. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm a big fan of cultivating self-awareness...which is why this month is so utterly baffling.

In case you weren't "aware" (couldn't help myself), April is Autism Acceptance Month! Many Autistics prefer this over Autism Awareness Month, the original name for this advocacy period. Using "Awareness" for autism advocacy has actually done more harm than it has helped. This term has caused a medieval thought process to prevail over research, policy, and society in regards to Autism. So, instead, many (dare I say most) Autistics prefer to call it "Autism Acceptance Month."

You might be wondering how I know this.

Well, I am autistic...so, you know...I know. I prefer it. Plus, I've done a lot of research since my diagnosis in 2012 at the age of 36. I watched how people reacted toward us, towards me, as I revealed what I felt was a good thing. As I navigated the contradictory world of being "too weird" to be normal, but too "high-functioning" for people to believe that I am autistic, I discovered that I'm not broken, and neither are my autistic peers. We are different. Our brains develop differently - not deficiently - and those differences result in some real variety of characteristics for the human race...ones we sorely need as a species if we hope to survive. Yep. Survive.

Yes, we have difficulties, challenges...but those challenges have more to do with the way society views us and some abstract, unachievable concept of what "normal" should be, than anything we are theoretically doing wrong.

Worse, groups like Autism Speaks have taken our voice by using allistic (non-autistic) people to speak for us, focusing on the parents more than autistic children or the autistic adults we become. These people make us out to be broken at our most benign, and monsters at our most harmful. We are neither. 

The press on us is so bad, that anti-vaxxers cite, among other reasons, the chance of autism as a reason not to vaccinate their child against things like smallpox, polio, and the plague (yes, that one), despite the initial research that vaccines were a cause for autism being thoroughly and repeatedly debunked. Still, what this says about these people, that they would rather their child contract a once-eradicated, fatal disease than come to terms with the idea of an autistic child is appalling. They would rather have a dead child than an autistic child.

How is this self-aware? Or aware at all? And they act like we're the monsters.

The way these people use the term "awareness" makes it sound like we're something awful lurking around the corner, that there's something dangerous about us. 

And maybe there is. Because we've been among the many revolutionaries that have helped change history. Einstein, Tesla, Mozart, Thomas Jefferson, Michelangelo...though the term "autism" wasn't coined until the 1940s, more and more experts agree that these people (and so many more) were likely autistic.

So, yes, we want you to be aware of us. We want you to be aware that:

  • We are just like you but, like you, we are all different. We all have gifts and challenges.
  • Nonverbal doesn't mean we're not communicating; you just may need to learn new methods of listening.
  • Making eye contact is not so important that traumatizing your child through harmful, outdated "therapies" be necessary in order to achieve it.
  • When we say we are having sensory issues, or we're having trouble with schedules and organization, please don't treat us as though we are selfish or lazy. We are doing our best.
  • "High-functioning" doesn't mean we're doing better than "low-functioning." It means that we appear "less" autistic to you, but know that we are masking aspects of ourselves so that you will be more comfortable, and it is harming us.
  • Humans made a society that is toxic for autistic people and, if you look a little deeper, you'll see that it's toxic for you, too. Change the system, not the person.
  • We have gifts to share with the world, and we want you to see those instead of our deficiencies. 

And once you're aware of us, we want you to accept us. Accept that Autism isn't a disease and stop trying to genocidally correct us. Appreciate our gifts, and try to see things through our eyes so that we can all reap the benefit of a kinder, more healthful society. Try celebrating us.

Should you want to learn more about what it means to be Autistic during this month of acceptance, you can check out some of the posts and quotes I posted last year during this time:
Autism Acceptance Month 2018
In addition to posting new articles on this blog during April, I am posting quotes, memes, and articles on my social media. The theme for this year? You guessed it:
Celebrate Autism!
If you aren't already following me, check me out on the following:
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Celebrate Autism!

What do you think? 

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