Most people will know that April has been coined Autism Awareness Month, where social media is overwhelmed with people spreading facts about autism. However, in recent years, a lot of people have started to question whether raising awareness alone is enough. When you consider that 95.5% of people already know what autism is, it’s understandable that people view autism acceptance as the next hurdle for society to tackle.
The neurodiversity movement, specifically the autistic community, feel so passionately that they’ve decided to call this month by another name. While others may spend time spreading facts many already know, these people will be going one step further in a movement they’ve penned ‘Autism Acceptance Month’. To these people, April will be able sharing home truths about what autism really is in the hope of encouraging acceptance.
What exactly does autism acceptance mean?
Like I mentioned above, accepting autism comes after learning that the condition exists at all. It should be the next step, an easy adjustment after people have become aware of the condition. However, rarely does it work in that way. Instead, people’s lack of understanding causes a culture of fear and hesitation towards including autistic people in wider society, and that needs to change.
Unlike awareness, which is becoming more and more popular in mainstream society throughout April, acceptance is a newer phenomenon. It isn’t something that can be forced upon you, either; it’s something you have to choose, a decision you need to make. You have to accept that there are differences, and be okay with them, embracing autistic people within society like they’re any less equal than you are.
It’s worth mentioning that treating somebody equally doesn’t mean treating the same. By accepting the condition, you also accept the extra accommodations disabled people have that need to be met. Be willing to implement ‘reasonable adjustments’ that help an autistic person to succeed, and be there to answer questions that may reassure an autistic person enough to put themselves out there in your environment.
But why is accepting autism so important?
Because Autistic People Are NOT Burdens
Autism acceptance is important because it’s about time we stopped treating autistic people like burdens. We need to get our heads out of the 1950’s, where autistic people were institutionalized or abused until we stopped the behaviours that made us who we are, and accept the differences in our society.
We need to accept that even though there might be differences, nobody else has the right to take someone’s right to contribute to society away from them. The last thing we need, after all the progress we’ve made, is to push people into social isolation for the ease of others. This will help to stop the stigma surrounding our condition once and for all.
Because autistic people have the same rights to high self-esteems as non-autistic people
Without acceptance, society will continue to tell autistic people that they cannot be celebrated for being themselves. The adverse reactions towards people having meltdowns, or stimming to receive the sensory input they desire, will continue, and the message towards autistic people like myself are clear: You are not accepted, so you must change.
This is likely to have an impact on the autistic child, reducing their self-esteem levels as they start to view themselves as the problem. They might start trying to behave like other people to be accepted, which could make them feel like they’ve lost themselves, and confuse their own self-image. Effectively, we’re teaching people to hate themselves from a young age, simply because they have a disability which may change the way they experience life.
We need to teach autistic people to embrace their disability, and in turn, embrace themselves. Why force people to be ashamed just because they’re part of a societal minority?
Because children receiving abusive therapy’s labelled as something else should never be accepted
One popular kind of therapy for autistic children is Applied Behaviour Analysis. This uses the idea of conditioning from Pavlov’s psychological theory to change the way autistic people behave. Effectively, it makes them act against their normal instincts to avoid punishments, or having something they like withheld from them.
Some things that might be asked of the child include maintaining eye contact for several minutes, or engaging in unwanted physical contact. Now I don’t know about you, but I consider teaching someone autonomy over their own body far more important than making sure they’re accepted by Susan down the street. I’d deal with her tutting all day if it meant my own child felt confident enough to withdraw consent when they weren’t comfortable with something.
You might not think of this as abusive, per say, but many who have been through this themselves would disagree. You don’t have to look very far to find an autistic adult talking about the post-traumatic-stress disorder they suffer as a result of this ‘therapy’ they were forced into as a child. And, when even an ABA therapist has written a blog post admitting the abusive nature of this practice.
However, I think it’s important to add this doesn’t extend to therapy like speech therapy, which can be done in a positive way. This is something I received as a child and found extremely beneficial.
Because autistic people need tolerance, not a cure
Acceptance is important because autistic people don’t need a cure. We need tolerance, an understanding that we are different, not less. The inventor of ABA claims he can cure autism, but how is that possible when the cause of this condition is still unknown?
The truth is, autistic people aren’t puzzle pieces. Our brains do not have something missing from them; they are simply wired differently. Autistic people do not exist for neurotypical people to experiment on.
We need acceptance because autistic people should not be scared of doing things neurotypical people do without a second thought. Autistic people should not worry about being pulled off of planes for our behaviour, or told to leave shopping centres. I’ve seen so many worries from autistic people in the communities I am a part of about them being worried of being excluded because of behaviour their body naturally tells them to do.
Autism Acceptance Has Started!
In recent years, businesses have listened more and more to suggestions made by autistic people and those close to us. There is so much more than needs to be done, but this is a step in the right direction.
Some supermarkets have quiet hours so autistic people can avoid sensory overload from bright lights and loud music. This is inclusion, as we are able to carry out the same activities as non-autistic people without suffering.
An Irish airport recently opened a sensory room for people with special needs, and has encouraged other airports to do the same. I’ve never been in an airport myself, but I’ve heard from others that this can be a very overwhelming environment.
Thanks for reading my latest blog post, and until next Saturday,