And here we are. It’s the last day of Autism Awareness Week…
Recently – and not just this week – I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion about whether Autism Awareness Month/Week/Day should be Autism Acceptance Month/Week/Day instead. I’ve seen lots of people saying we’re past the point of awareness and that acceptance should be the primary focus. Of course – of course – I think acceptance is vitally important and the way forward but when it comes to the point about awareness, I’m not sure.
Are people ACTUALLY aware? Yes, many people are aware that Autism exists. But… Are they aware that it presents differently in different people? Are they aware that it presents very differently in females to males? Are they aware of how hard many autistic individuals work to mask their Autism and how damaging that can be in the long term? Are they aware of how much anxiety a change of plans can cause? Are they aware that autistic individuals may need more time to process information than their neurotypical peers? Are they aware of what sensory sensitivities are actually like to live with? Are they aware of what is going on for an autistic person when they’re having a meltdown? I’m not sure many people are.
Autism Awareness, in my opinion, isn’t just about being aware that Autism exists. It’s about having an actual awareness about the experience of it, the full picture – as much as you can when a condition can present so differently in each person. So many people – many of them good and decent people – still don’t have a real awareness of what the main areas of difficulty can be for autistic individuals, how they can support their neurodivergent peers, and how they can be allies in the fight against ableism. I think this is particularly important when it comes to institutions – medicine (both physical and mental), education, etc – because in my experience at least, many people in these institutions don’t know much about Autism at all. There has not been a single medical appointment in my memory that I’ve gone to where I haven’t had to explain at least one big relevant area of my Autism. And not just in specific, personal terms but in general this-actually-exists terms. With all of that in mind, have we outgrown the need for Autism Awareness and Autism Awareness Months/Weeks/Days? I don’t think we have.
I’ve seen other people talking about acceptance as more positive than awareness, that awareness comes from a past of seeing Autism as a problem to be solved, an obstacle to be negotiated whereas acceptance is about the future, about welcoming autistic individuals into society rather than sidelining them. I can completely understand this point of view and I don’t disagree, but I think that’s a big leap to make. Can you truly accept something without, at the very least, a basic understanding of it?
Maybe I’m being too literal. But I think it comes down to more than awareness OR acceptance. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s a different word altogether. Maybe we should take the lead from Twitter’s #actuallyautistic hashtag and have an Actually Autistic Month to put the focus on the actual individuals with Autism. I don’t know. I’m not going to pretend to be the font of all knowledge when it comes to this, when it comes to Autism. This is just my two cents. I think awareness is still necessary but acceptance is vital to the quality of life of autistic individuals. I don’t think it’s one or the other. I think it’s a topic that still needs conversation and development.
So… awareness or acceptance? I think it’s both. I think it’s awareness and acceptance.
I hope this week of posts has been helpful and interesting! Don’t forget that April is Autism Awareness Month so, where possible, let’s all keep reading and learning and raising the voices and experiences of autistic individuals.