I’ve tried to write for Autism Acceptance Month a few times now. I’ve tried the heartfelt narrative, I’ve tried the listicle informational post. I’ve tried to write about what acceptance is, what it means, why it matters. I’ve deleted many drafts. I’ve been rolling it over in my mind, what exactly I want to tell the world about acceptance, and autism, and disability, and what it all means to me.
I’ve decided not to do that. I don’t want to write to an ableist world to convince them to feel empathy for us. I don’t want to argue with Autism Parents about whether we’re disordered (we’re not), whether we need to eliminate autism (we don’t), whether it’s valid to divide us up into The Ones Who Need to be Cured and The Ones Who Aren’t Really Autistic (just stop).
I don’t want to beg for acceptance. I don’t want to plead for compassion. I’m not going to sweet talk them into seeing our worth. I don’t feel like laying my soul bare in the hopes that bigoted people might find something in me that could soften their cold hearts. Not this April.
Instead, this year I want to say to the young child I saw whooping and hooting and joyfully stimming their way through the supermarket last month: be you. You’re beautiful, don’t ever change. I know you’re going to grow and learn so many things but don’t let anyone take your happy sounds from you because they are some of the best parts of you.
I want to tell the kid sitting in their classroom wondering why things feel so hard right now: you are not alone. There are lots of people who are a lot like you and we are waiting to welcome you with open arms. I hope you find us soon – we have so much to talk about.
I want to say to the parents who are raising autistic children with love and acceptance, I know you’re out there, and keep on keeping on. It seems overwhelming sometimes, what you’re up against. But it’s worth it, it’s worth it, every single day that your child has you to fall into, that safe space, that softness, that unconditional love.
And to the other autistic activists out there, the veterans and the noobs alike: you are awesome. I mean, literally, I’m in awe of your bravery, your strength, your vulnerability, your hard work. The way you push through overload, PTSD, and this ableist culture we’re in and you keep fighting and on top of all that, you hold on to your sense of humor because they can’t take that away from you. I want to be like you when I grow up.
And also to the autistic people who are not working as activists: you are enough, just being you. You don’t have to justify your existence. I don’t want you to have to fight for respect. I see you, and I know you are valuable; you are not obligated to prove it, through activism or being inspiring or any other way. Just be. You are enough.
Autistic people, we’re going to win this. I know I probably sound like a sap and perhaps I’m too optimistic – these are the things about me that I used to get embarrassed about, blushing twenty shades of red for getting caught out being painfully earnest – but I’m learning to embrace this, and everything else about myself they told me was wrong, weird, or silly.
I can’t stop dreaming of a better world, that’s just who I am. I can envision it, feel what it will feel like. A world where people are free to stim and script, talk or not talk, make eye contact or avoid it. Where everyone who needs an AAC device has one. Where classrooms are integrated and practicing true inclusion. A world with places of silence and soft lighting and squishy things and safe spaces. Where ABA is widely viewed as a barbaric practice buried in the past. Where it is not just illegal, but unthinkable, to hurt autistic children or adults. Where autistics who can work find employment, and those who can’t have a solid safety net to support them. Where all the research money is going into developing better supports, better technology, better access. Where autistic people have equal representation in government, where they run the autism organizations, have positions of power in the justice system and medical professions and in education. And where autistic people can be recognized and respected no matter what their race, gender, sexuality, or other disabilities may be.
Autistic people, acceptance is our birthright. It’s what we deserve, not what we earn by demonstrating extraordinary gifts or “contributing to society” in some material way or by being inspirational to non-disabled people, but by our very existence. So this April I won’t fight for autism acceptance, I’ll just take it. I’ll just celebrate, and shout from the rooftops that we are here and we’re not going anywhere.
And next month I’ll get back in there and fight again.