April is known for spring, flowers, and Autism Acceptance Month. This April, autism rights groups are asking schools and the media to focus on the inclusion and acceptance of those with different neurologies. This starts with the small, but significant, change from Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance.
Acceptance vs. Awareness
Many self-advocates for autism spectrum disorders view their neurology as a difference in thinking, not something that needs to be cured. Self-advocates ask for acceptance and support, not isolation. Like everyone, those with autism want acceptance for both their strengths and weaknesses.
“Acceptance is about moving beyond this idea of awareness, which has been medicalized and has been used to spread ideas of autism that are stigmatizing,” says Zoe Gross, Director of Advocacy at ASAN. “[Autism] makes life harder, but it’s part of our experience of the world. It’s not something to be scared of.”
Gross is referring to many of the hurtful “awareness” campaigns of the past. People with autism were said to be “suffering” and were portrayed as burdens on their parents and on society. Fear-mongering and skewed statistics were used to raise money for organizations dedicated to research, not helping individuals. Many children who grew up with this message want to end the stigma for their own children.
Acceptance, on the other hand, calls for society to meet children and adults with autism where they are and to make room for them. The word “acceptance” asks that we see autism not as a disease, but as a natural difference in neurology.
Autism Acceptance in the World
Since 2011 the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) has been asking others to call April “Autism Acceptance Month.” For many with autism, it is a part of who they are and not something that can be cured without destroying a part of themselves. Acceptance of these differences is what leads to a happy life, not a cure. The Autism Society, a group of parents and doctors, has also called for the name change, citing that stigma against individuals with autism is often the biggest barrier to self-actualization.
What Autism Means to Educators
I interviewed several teachers with autism about what autism acceptance means and how it helps their classrooms. Here are some great responses.
“To me, autistic acceptance means a willingness to learn and to accept our differences, to facilitate an environment that allows us to be included, and to understand that our worth is not defined by others’ inconvenience.”
“The normalization of divergence in every brain and body. There are so many variables in our nature and nurture, internal and external, known and unknown … ‘normal’ needs to be replaced with ‘common,’ with an emphasis on ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ …”
“Just by identifying myself, I see in every class I am in, a few students brighten up that I am like them. I see the other students, who like me and see me successful in my role, realize not only am I not ashamed, but I’m proud to be who I am.”
“Autism acceptance means that neurodivergent people have their differences celebrated and recognized as strengths, rather than characterized as weaknesses.”
“Being autistic makes me more understanding of others (especially children). It also helps me give students more of a chance to be the best version of themselves, instead of trying to get them to conform.”
—5th grade teacher from Texas
Autism Acceptance in the Classroom
ASAN ensures people with autism have a space to speak for themselves. This group works to change laws and policies, create educational resources, and train others to lead. Teachers looking for great resources on autism created by those with lived experiences should look to this organization.
For those looking to make changes to the classroom, there are plenty of resources. Here are some starting points:
This year, start with the change in language to Autism Acceptance. Autism needs to be understood and included as part of the human experience. This April, think of what you can do to create a more inclusive classroom and fight for it!
How do you plan to honor Autism Acceptance Month this year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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