It’s the middle of April, which means it’s time to pause to reflect not merely on what we’ve been doing for Autism Acceptance Month but why this campaign is so critical for our community. The history of autism is one riddled with rhetoric that has at various times painted autistic people as possessed by demons, cursed for their sins or those of their parents, devastating tragedies for their families, burdens on society, or pitiful wretches in need of a fix or cure. The dominant voices in the national conversation about autism are largely those of non-autistic people advocating for awareness, a concept that means very little for those of us who are actually autistic.
For us, “autism awareness” means fear-mongering, pity-based public marketing campaigns designed to paint autism as something dark and scary, and autistic people as mysterious and broken. Autism awareness means conversations about autism without autistic people.
The concept of autism acceptance seeks instead to replace the woefully misguided campaign for autism awareness with an active movement spearheaded by autistic people and our allies to promote understanding and support of autistic people across the lifespan throughout the community. We have joined an increasing tide of autistic people and allies in launching our Autism Acceptance Month website, in the hopes of beginning to change the conversations about autism away from fear and pity and toward meaningful acceptance.
On our website, we’ve asked visitors to pledge not to support or attend events about autism that exclude autistic voices, which has received hundreds of signatures since launch. We’ve provided fact sheets for autistic people, parents, educators, and those new to the community, as well as entire pages of resources for your perusal. We’ve had the privilege of hosting essays for the Autism Acceptance Month blog written by some of the most important voices in the Autistic community, as well as partnering with several organizations dedicated to empowering and supporting people with disabilities to present our campaign.
This is the second year of our partnership with online retailer ThinkGeek to raise funds for our policy and programming work through the sales of neurodiversity-themed t-shirts. We’re also offering an entire line of autism acceptance-themed products with our logo through CafePress. ASAN’s chapters across the country are hosting panels, socials, and other events to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month and educate their communities, and we’ve highlighted each of those events on our site. In the national capital, we’re hosting public screenings of autism-positive documentaries Citizen Autistic, Loving Lampposts, and Wretches and Jabberers as a way to stimulate conversation about what acceptance can actually look like.
Never before has our community had such a broad-reaching campaign for autism acceptance led by autistic people, and I am excited to be part of it. The status quo omits autistic people from conversations about us, but we can begin to change that in our neighborhoods and communities across the United States. We can be part of the change. Ten years ago, this was unthinkable. Today, this is reality.