April may be “Autism Awareness Month,” but mere awareness is not enough. We need to move beyond awareness to acceptance, and turn acceptance into ACTION.
Why? The world is aware of autism, yet autistic people face microaggressions or even flat-out discrimination every day. Autistic adults are aware that many who claim to speak for the Autism community don’t actually ask Autistic people for their opinion. We are aware that many businesses refuse to give us a chance at meaningful employment. Parents are aware of the lack of sufficient resources to help their children thrive in schools. Children know what it feels like to be bullied and isolated.
It is not enough to be aware one month of the year, and yet sometimes it seems like the only people really paying attention to Autism Awareness Month are people in the community. The rest seem to just want to donate money to an Autism charity to ease their conscience.
Want to REALLY make a difference? ACCEPT. ACCOMMODATE. APPRECIATE. ADVOCATE. Take ACTION. Keep reading for some suggestions of ways that you can help improve the lives of Autistic people. We don’t need your pity, but we would appreciate your support.
First of all, treat Autistic individuals with respect. Take time to teach children kindness, empathy, and to ACCEPT those who are different. This can actually yield results beyond simple awareness. The amazing way that my son’s classmates recently stood up for him is a beautiful example of what can happen when we are transparent with children about inclusion and disability.
Yes, I said disability. Some people bristle when that term is used in reference to Autism. I am being realistic about the fact that with autism can come a mixture of strengths and struggles. Autistic people have to work incredibly hard to navigate in the neurotypical world. It is a world that is full of overwhelming sights and sounds and smells and social systems. That is why it is so important for others to be willing to ACCOMMODATE us. Educators need to be flexible in their teaching styles and teach Autistic children the way they need to learn. Employers need to be open to hiring people with any sort of disability so that we can support ourselves AND show the world that we really do have something to contribute. Give us a chance and see what we can do!
APPRECIATE the uniqueness of the neurodivergent. Embrace people for who they are, and not who you expect them to be. See their gifts and their inherent value as whole human beings who deserve respect. It is also important to appreciate their perspective, and listen to the voices of people who are #actuallyautistic. For example, an increasing majority of Autistic individuals prefer “Identity-first language” rather than person-first. Yet many non-autistic individuals still view the word “Autistic” as negative and refuse to say it, or even worse, correct autistic people when they refer to themselves as autistic.
You can ADVOCATE. If you see unkindness or discrimination then I would encourage you to should speak up and FIGHT it. One positive voice in a world full of bigotry and “retard” jokes can make a difference. Stand up for those who are bullied. Join movements that work with and for Autistic people. Autistic people are far too often marginalized and dismissed. Listen to our voices, support our work.
Then you can take ACTION. Never underestimate the power of simple acts of kindness. Be a true friend to an Autistic person, respect their point of view. Encourage your children to ask the child who is alone every day at recess if they want to play. Reach out to the parent of an Autistic child and ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Invite their family into your homes and, for the sake of all that is good in the world, please DO NOT exclude autistic children from birthday parties.
Really, the possibilities are endless. What matters is that we all do more than simply being aware of Autism.
Finally, if you need to explain autism to anyone here is a video written from the perspective of someone who is autistic. My 10-year-old son created it and I am incredibly proud of his bravery, advocacy, and creativity. It has been posted on the Seriously Not Boring Facebook page, and a version is also on YouTube (Sensory warning: He starts out with a VERY enthusiastic “HI!”, so you may want to turn down the sound a bit).
For more information on Autism Acceptance month you can visit this website: http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/about/. It has a lot of helpful information, links, and resources.
ACCEPT. ACCOMMODATE. APPRECIATE. ADVOCATE. Take ACTION. What will YOU do for the Autistic community this April?
(This is a rewrite of a post that first appeared on Seriously Not Boring in April of 2015.)
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