Autism Acceptance Month

A less known name for the month of April is Autism Acceptance Month, also known as Autism Awareness Month. Originating in the 1970’s, the acceptance movement is a good way to become more educated about your autistic peers. This includes knowing the proper terminology when referring to people’s needs, knowing how you can create more autistic friendly spaces, and gaining better understanding of the autistic perspective. All of these factors are important in creating a more welcoming and open community for all. 

The first step in creating an open and welcoming environment for everyone is to remove harmful terminology from our vocabulary. For example, the term ‘asperger’s’ – previously used to refer to members of the autistic community on the low support end of the spectrum who might be more gifted than their peers – is a dated term that is incredibly harmful. This term establishes the idea that autistic people are not intelligent and that therefore those who are need a separate diagnosis. This term is also deeply rooted in the Nazi regime, with the founder- Hans Asperger- having involvement in identifying disabled children and sending them to Spiegelgrund, a Nazi facility in Vienna where they would be euthanized. Another harmful set of terminology is the concept of ‘low functioning’ and ‘high functioning’. These terms are not only demeaning, they are incredibly dehumanizing as they deem some autistic people who need more support as incapable of functioning. These terms can also be incredibly discouraging. In its place, terms like ‘low support’ and ‘high support’ should be used instead, to avoid demeaning or infantilizing those around you.

Throughout the article I have mentioned a spectrum, which is not as linear as some people may believe. While it is true the autistic experience largely differs from person to person, the autistic “spectrum” is much more like a circle than a line. For example, one person may struggle more in social settings, but might not stim (the act of movement or repeated activity often used as a comfort or showing of strong emotion, ex. waving your hands around) while another may stim while doing better socially. These two people cannot be placed on a straight lined spectrum, as autism cannot be “ranked” in such an orderly and restrictive way. There are simply too many factors which define autism and a person’s experience with it. To rank autism in a linear structure makes the claim that some autistic traits hold higher ranks than others. Each person has their own equal and specialized needs which, when made aware of, can create a more comfortable space for all. 

A few ways to make your autistic peers more comfortable is through the use of tone tags. (Ex. /gen meaning something genuine) Tone tags can be helpful for those who struggle to differentiate a person’s tone within texts, to find more examples of tone tags and their different meanings, the internet is a helpful tool. The avoidance of “cringe culture” is also important to avoiding the polarization of autistic traits. This is due to much of cringe culture being rooted in the mockery of autistic interests and passions. Autistic people can hold much stronger passions for and toward an interest-  this is also known as a “special interest” or a “hyperfixation” (if the interest is short term)- yet, are often made fun of for their passion and enjoyment of their interest. Another autistic trait to avoid mocking is the use of stimming, which I have already mentioned. Stimming is often a positive comfort for those in the autistic community, and can include “fidgeting” with hair, rapid movement of hands and arms, jumping in seats, or twiddling of fingers. Though stimming is unique to each person, a factor that stays the same is the ridicule and shame that is faced when autistic people stim in public spaces. To face shame when doing something you enjoy is not only disheartening, but also just plain depressing. 

Finally, it is important to know the dangers of large groups such as Autism Speaks and with it the “Light it Up Blue” campaign. Autism Speaks is an incredibly harmful organization known for its lack of autistic representation in positions of power, lack of spending on the improvement of autistic lives and their harmful research on finding the ‘cure’ of autism instead of focusing on improving present autistic livelihoods. To find a cure is to deem autism something that needs to be fixed, a mindset which is incredibly dehumanizing and even dangerous to people’s lives. Because of this, many members of the autistic community have denounced this organization. To show support, rather than donning a puzzle piece, wear or present a rainbow or plain infinity symbol. 

Overall, the most important thing to do during the month of April, as well as all year round, is to listen to autistic people, their experiences, and allow those around you to vocalize what they need to help create a better community. 

Our community is at its best when it includes everybody.