It’s World Autism “Awareness” Day (and subsequently, in the US, the month of April is Autism Awareness Month). Some people in the Autism Community have decided to change the name to World Autism “Acceptance” Day; other’s have even gone a step farther and redubbed it World Autism “Awesomeness” Day. There are a few different variations of these.
I, personally, do not care which name you use. Believe me, I daily see the “awesomeness” that is autism so I can fully appreciate a name like that and I hope for “acceptance” more than anything, but I realize that acceptance can only come through “awareness” – through proper awareness. From the proper places and sources. Mostly from those who “get it”. Mostly from the people living it.
I wrote once before about the proper way in which to gain awareness. (Or, atleast my thoughts on the proper way in which to achieve it.) I won’t bore you by expressing the same sentiments over again but it should suffice to say that buying awareness with fear does absolutely nothing to further this great cause. When you buy awareness with fear you might as well just be mortgaging future acceptance to the devil (with no expectations of ever getting it back).
There are many words I have heard used to describe life with autism and a good portion of them make me cringe. Using words like “nightmare” to describe autism take away so much of the beauty that autism actually encompasses. Words like “nightmare” don’t express the depth of character that each individual posses. Words like “nightmare” do not adequately communicate the many great aspects of their lives. “Nightmare” only fuels the hate filled fire that resides in the uneducated – allowing those who perceive autism as the ultimate evil to feel justified is calling autistics criminals, murderers, killers, and worthless. To the contrary, all “nightmare” articulates is something fearful and horrid. Something that would be better avoided.
When Non-profit organizations, such as Autism Speaks, compares Autism to AIDS, cancer, and diabetes (by saying that more children will be diagnosed with autism than the three of those combined each year) they allow people to inextricably connect the four. And there is a fundamental difference between them. AIDS, cancer and diabetes (when left untreated) can be fatal. Autism alone is under no circumstances fatal. It’s not a death sentence. Grouping these “conditions” together, even for statistical purposes, allows the reader (rather consciously or unconsciously) to categorize autism as another disorder that is “medically necessary to find a cure” for.
The vast majority of autistic adults that I speak too do not want to be cured. They just want to be accepted. They just want to be listened to. They just want to be appreciated. They just want to be heard. They just want to be. They do NOT want to be cured. They actually like their autism. Yes, they like their autism. They enjoy certain facets of it and they are comfortable with who they are. They just want you to be comfortable with who they are too.
The road to acceptance is bumpy. It is not smooth. The fight will be long, and hard, but most Autistics are ready for it. (As are their allies.) They are willing to put themselves out there, they are willing to be ridiculed and mocked, called names and demeaned just for the dream of making this world a better place for all Autistics – those who speak and those who have yet to find their voices, those who are diagnosed and those who have yet to be, those currently alive and those yet to come. They surely are not faint of heart. They are surely not nightmares.
So, for this year’s World Autism “Whatever You Like To Call It” Day you can help us by making acceptance (and appreciation) the most important aspects of your thought process. You can help us break down barriers and stigmas by being weary of sources that use scare tactics and fright-filled language. Just remember neuro-diversity shouldn’t be feared – it should be embraced. That should be our message. Not just today, but every day.