It's Autism Awareness Month in Canada. It's such a big thing (sarcasm) here that I forgot! There is very little, to no mention of it in the news and on Facebook.
At this point we need more than awareness anyway. We need acceptance.
The definition of awareness is having knowledge of something.
Yes, it is important but most people are 'aware' of autism. They know it exists, but they don't truly know what it is. The way autism awareness campaigns are generally run, they portray autism as a tragedy. It is a way to raise money for the organization running the campaign, especially that big well known organization AS (they focus on the April awareness campaign it seems though). Awareness involves talking about what is 'wrong' with us, our deficits, making us normal. It is pointing out and getting rid of our differences, blending in with the crowd. It makes it seem like it is not okay to be autistic. It treats autism like a disease to be gotten rid of. Awareness campaigns seem to focus on one part of the spectrum, making the public think every autistic is like that- a child who can't speak, constantly has meltdowns..... It makes for good fundraising, usually for research (to 'cure' or prevent us). That money can be put to much better use getting us the supports we need to have the best life each autistic is capable of living. Awareness that autism exists is just a starting point.
What we really need is acceptance. The definition of acceptance, in this instance, is favourable reception; approval; favour.
Acceptance is saying, it's okay to be autistic. It's okay to be you. It's not trying to separate autism out of the person. It is impossible anyway. It is part of our brain's wiring, it affects every part of us- our communication style, socialization style, sensory system, everything. Taking away our autism is taking away a big part of us. We would be completely different people. Could you imagine changing your child or friend into someone you no longer know?
Acceptance is knowing that autism is a disability in some areas and an advantage in other areas while supporting us in both if we need it. It is saying, 'it's okay to be autistic'. It is saying, 'how can we help you, what areas do you need support with?'. Including us in everything to do with us.
Acceptance is autistics not feeling we have to be embarrassed by or have to try to stifle our stims and interests (some are very original!). It is allistic (not autistic) people knowing and understanding that stimming may be one of our forms of emotional expression. Some autistics flap, jump, squeal, or all three when they are happy. An allistic person on the other hand, may smile and some may even cry when they are really happy (which to me makes no sense, but there is nothing wrong with crying when happy. It is just the make up of some people!). I flap when I am really anxious or frustrated. Sometimes, I will flap, jump and squeal if especially frustrated. For me, I don't flap when happy. I don't get happy anyway! I just am. Maybe the emotions thing can be another blog.
Acceptance would mean me not having to be afraid to use AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) in talking to someone or a group. It's people not thinking I'm faking or trying to pull something by using AAC, because I can talk most of the time. It would mean that if I were to sing on stage at a recital (I'm taking lessons) that I could rock side to side while I do it or have a fidget and nobody would think that I'm "weird" or that it isn't proper- the way a performance should be. It helps me and if it helps me and does no harm to anyone, should it really matter?
Acceptance is the world knowing that autistics have valuable contributions to make to society the same as any other human. It is letting us speak for ourselves, however that needs to happen- verbally, signed, typed etc.
Accepting us means giving us the same rights and respect that you would to a non-autistic person. It is knowing and seeing that we are different but just as capable. We are all individuals after all.
We are not projects for someone to work on, we can be friends, and an autistic friend can be a truly loyal friend, who can keep your secrets.
Acceptance is observing an autistic person shopping while wearing ear plugs/muffs and sun glasses but thinking nothing of it. Just seeing a fellow shopper.
Acceptance doesn't mean we don't have really rough days or need treatment for various issues. It means meeting us where we are and supporting us through it. Just being there for us even if it is just in the background to assist us if needed or just helping us wait it out and then not seeing us any differently when the bad time is over. We have bad times like everyone else but ours may be a little messier! Acceptance is loving us no matter what for our whole person, just as you would love your non-autistic loved one.
I don't generally feel accepted in most places I go. I try to hide most of my true self. I want to feel that I can openly stim and not just in socially appropriate ways (chewing my pen, twirling my hair). I want to be able to flap when I am upset in public or anywhere that I am. I want to be me and not have to hide. Very gradually that is happening but I'm not sure that I will ever be able to openly act the way I do when I am alone. I have had to hide for so long that I don't do most of my stims, except for verbal ones, in front of my immediate family even.
I have someone who has been supporting me and is also my friend. I have been able to tell her things and they don't scare her off. She seems to accept me as I am. I haven't done much stimming in front of her yet but I'm sure she would take that in stride too.
It is time for Autism Acceptance to be what everyone is striving for! We could do so much more with support than with people constantly trying to change our neurology.