by Matt Young
The things we’re willing to accept, and the things we refuse to accept, reveal a lot about who we are, as individuals and as a culture.
From a young age, our society strives to indoctrinate us to refuse to accept anything less than perfection and success from ourselves. We are taught to reject any hint of failure, to turn up our noses at the faintest whiff of aberrance or deviance from the socially mandated yardstick of that which is “normal.” Inabilities or disabilities are often dismissed as we are told to simply “try harder”, exhorted not to “give up” and instructed to “accept nothing less than success.”
But not all bodies and minds are created equal, and many of us find ourselves carelessly cast out into a world that has been designed for bodies and minds that are very different from our own. Building a healthy and satisfying life for ourselves in such a world is often an insurmountable task, as we find ourselves confronted by innumerable barriers to access at every turn. Without supports and accommodations to compensate for the disadvantage of living in a world that wasn’t designed for people like us, many of us simply find ourselves adrift, subsisting as best we can on whatever resources we can manage to scrounge up for ourselves.
Meanwhile, society continues to inundate us with the message that our failure to achieve security and stability for ourselves is our own fault, and furthermore that our failure is unacceptable. We are conditioned to refuse to accept our shortcomings, and in the end, we are conditioned to refuse to accept ourselves. We are taught to loathe our differences in ability, taught to blame these natural differences for our failures, rather than holding society accountable for its failure to accommodate a more diverse range of bodies and minds. Trapped in this destructive paradigm, we finish the job society started, cycling through endless loops of shame and self-rejection.
In the specific case of autism, this dynamic is played out in a particularly blatant fashion. For years, the dominant narrative about autism has been anything but accepting. Awareness campaigns funded by alarmist organizations have characterized autism as a mysterious, invisible thief that steals the souls of innocent children, leaving them empty, emotionally disconnected husks. Panicked parents have been conditioned by this fear-mongering to treat autism as the enemy, and to seek out ways to destroy this insidious force that has somehow stolen away the perfect, able-bodied, able-minded children they were “supposed” to have, and replaced them with these pitiable, tragic figures.
The damage that this rhetoric does to the autistic population is, quite frankly, unacceptable. Which is why we are rebranding April, long claimed by the fear-mongers as “Autism Awareness Month” to spread their destructive campaign of awareness of autism as “the enemy.” We refuse to accept this brand of awareness, and have recast April as “Autism Acceptance Month”, a time to celebrate the unique, complex, sublime individuals that we are, to accept our strengths and our challenges, our struggles and our triumphs.
It’s time to accept that autism is here, and it’s not going away. To accept that autistics are here, and we’re not going away. It’s time to accept that autism is a natural part of the diversity of human existence, and that society has a long-neglected responsibility to provide this segment of our population with access to opportunities to succeed, to thrive, to find happiness and fulfillment, safety and security. It’s time to accept autistic mannerisms such as flapping, rocking, walking on tiptoe, and other forms of harmless stimming as the natural self-expressions of autistic bodies, and it’s time to accept our right to express ourselves in these ways, publicly.
It’s time to accept that autism is a broad, complex condition that presents in myriad ways, with endless combinations of strengths and challenges, talents and impairments. It’s time to recognize that all of these diverse combinations are equally valid forms of autism, and that each of us on this vast spectrum is equally autistic, no matter how different from each other we may appear to a given observer at a given moment of our lives. It’s time to accept that our autism is an inextricable part of us, a fundamental part of how we receive and process information, rather than simply a set of unacceptable behaviors to be corrected. It’s time to accept our right to be autistic, to be ourselves, to accept ourselves as we are.
It’s time to accept that each of us develops at our own pace, and in our own way. It’s time to accept that some of us will never develop speech, and some of us will speak when we’re good and ready. It’s time to accept that some of us will communicate through typing, or signing, or never use language at all, and to accept that any of these alternatives is okay. It’s time to accept that some of us may never be able to tolerate the social and sensory overwhelm of large crowds, and to accept that it’s okay for us to keep to ourselves if that’s what brings us peace and security. It’s time to accept that some of us may thrive in an employment setting while others of us may never achieve stable financial independence, and to accept that you might not be able to predict which is which from your external observations of us. It’s time to provide us with guarantees of the supports we will need to live safe, happy lives, whichever of these abilities we do or don’t develop.
It’s time to accept autistics as respected members of our communities. It’s time to accept that autistics are suffering from exclusion and deprivation every day as a result of living in a society that was not designed to include us. It’s time to accept responsibility for changing this situation, and it’s time to accept that the solution is to change our society, not to change autistics. It’s time to accept that this change won’t be easy or quick, and it’s time to accept that in the meantime, the autistic people we love will need that much more respect, support, and accommodation, while we work to create a society where we all have the opportunity to participate equally. It’s time to step up, and take care of each other, because the status quo is unacceptable.
It’s time to work toward true Autism Acceptance, every day, because the alternative is to continue to accept a world where 2% of the population is relegated to the margins of society. Is that really a state of affairs that you’re willing to accept?