When we think of the National holidays in April, many people will instinctively think of Autism Awareness Month. Well, the autism community and many leading disability organizations want to see a change from awareness to acceptance for the community. A few decades ago, raising awareness around Autism made more sense than it does today. Thanks to a wide range of research and media, people have increased their exposure and understanding of Autism. Now it’s time to pivot to acceptance, which will make waves in progress for improved support and opportunities in education, employment, health care, long-term services, and housing.
While raising awareness is a critical component in mobilizing people to make a change, we have learned that it is often simply not enough. In fact, sometimes, awareness campaigns can facilitate the spread of misinformation, misconceptions, and harmful stereotypes about people with Autism. An example of this is the association of blue and puzzle pieces as representative of Autism. Many self-advocates believe the use of blue reinforces that Autism is primarily seen in males. The puzzle piece can feel infantilizing and perpetuates the idea that Autism is a childhood condition. Autistic self-advocacy networks have encouraged people to wear red or gold instead of blue and have replaced the puzzle piece with the infinity symbol.
If you’ve shared a post with blue puzzle pieces, don’t worry. This is okay! In order to see the change the community needs, the first step is to learn from them and their experiences. These are just some examples of the ways Autistic-led campaigns and movements are transforming the landscape around Autism Acceptance Month. The most extreme act we can perform as allies to people with Autism is to accept them entirely as they are. We encourage you to follow Autistic activists on social media, read and hear about their experiences, and support self-advocates.
Awareness suggests that simply knowing about Autism is enough, while acceptance is acknowledging and celebrating the things that make people with Autism different. This April, let’s work to create significant levels of inclusion and acceptance that can eliminate many of the problems Autistic people and their families face.
Society is ready to change, and people with Autism are ready to be accepted.