Is autism ‘awareness’ enough? Some advocate for Autism Acceptance Month

Do you have a preference?

Which do you prefer? Autism acceptance, or awareness? (Photo by Polina Kovaleva from Pexels)

April has widely been known as Autism Awareness Month in the U.S., as a way to empower people living with autism, along with their families.

But some in the autism community called to shift the language -- “to match the growing need for acceptance within the community,” according to one news release from the Autism Society of America.

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“While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life,” said Christopher Banks, the group’s president and CEO. “As many individuals and families affected by autism know, acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.”

Advocates have a long-standing history of using the term “acceptance” as a means of more fully integrating those with autism.

The ASA estimates that 1 in every 54 Americans lives with autism.

They go on to point out that there has never been a formal designation for the month, regardless of terminology.

The Autism Society of America is “leading a significant effort” for the federal government to officially designate April as “Autism Acceptance Month.”

And this didn’t start just in recent years.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network has been framing April as Autism Acceptance Month since 2011, the ASA said.

For another take, you could read one mom’s op-ed in The Washington Post from 2015. Author Kim Stagliano, who has authored a novel and two books on parenting daughters with autism -- also the managing editor of Age of Autism -- says we need to do more than celebrate and light things up blue.

The piece is called “My three daughters are autistic. I despise Autism Awareness Month.” and although you might find that language strong, Stagliano illustrates some important points about how for families living with autism, their needs extend far beyond awareness or acceptance.

“Certainly, a disorder so common deserves at least a month dedicated to educating people about its effects and raising money for critical social programs that can make autistic people’s lives happier, healthier and safer. ... What the autism community needs isn’t a party, but a sense of urgency and true crisis. They need advocates committed not only to getting them the acceptance they deserve, but also the critical help they require to survive, in the form of social programs, education, safety and employment opportunities.”

Just some things to think about in the month of April.

This story was first published in 2021. It has since been updated.

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