April is Autism Awareness Month.
I’m sure you’ve heard that by now. Maybe you’ve even heard some autistics saying they want “autism acceptance” instead of “autism awareness.”
Sure, I’ll take some acceptance on top of awareness. I’m not going to turn that down.
I’m not here to bicker over what word we tack on to autism though.
I’m here because I have conflicted feelings about an entire month being devoted to autism. I think there are positives and challenges to such a month.
One huge positive of autism month is that it supplies an extra impetus for governmental bodies to advance autism. Various governing bodies, from local city councils to state legislatures to parliaments, are publicly discussing autism and advancing autism-related policies and laws. You can see some examples within the US here.
They’re doing these things now to capitalize on the month of autism. I don’t mean capitalize in the negative sense it’s normally used - like to take advantage, make money, or exploit. I think they are aware it is the month for autism and they want to make sure they are advancing policies, as well as highlighting progress on autism. I see these things as being positive. I’d like autism to be on the minds of those making key decisions. I also like to know where they stand with their views.
I think some businesses are also motivated by autism month to do something for autism or highlight what they are already doing. Yes, some of this may just be hollow words, but I will not let that spoil the businesses that are taking genuine action.
So onto the conflicted part.
What are everyday people supposed to do with autism month? This is where I think it gets tricky.
Everyday people may feel quite powerless when it comes to autism. They may think, “Ok, it’s autism awareness month, what am I supposed to do about that?” Some may not even know any autistic people and be slightly more callous with responses like, “Ugh, I get it, it’s autism awareness month. Can we move on to something more relevant?”
As an autistic, I am also unsure of what more I can or should be doing for autism month. I live and breathe it every day. I write about it daily (you can check out my list of autism essays here). My entire therapy business is focused on late-identified autism.
Selfishly, I’d like to not do anything “extra” this month. I’d love to be lifted up. A father of an autistic man highlighted me and other autistic authors in his article about autism awareness month. I thought, “Damn, that’s quite nice.”
Could autism awareness month actually be a month where autistics don’t have to work harder? When our fellow humans simply highlight the great work we’re already doing? That’d be lovely.
As I write this, I’m giggling to myself. Laughing at how selfish this all sounds. Truthfully though, if I could ask my fellow neurotypicals for three things for autism awareness month it would be this:
Please take the time to understand what autism is from a neurodiverse lens. Okay, that’s a mouthful. In short, autism isn’t what most people think it is and I’d love for more people to understand what it actually feels like to be autistic, and how it presents for many people today. Here are some of my essays that I wish neurotypicals would read: Autistic Stereotypes Prevent People from Learning They're Autistic Defining and Explaining Autism How I Explain Autism to Someone Unfamiliar With It
Please highlight the work of autistics that you find helpful. I’m not asking for fake flattery or platitudes. Just share what you find informative. That’s what we need more of - the accurate, #actuallyautistic information getting circulated.
If there is someone in your life, whether it is a friend or family member, who recently learned they are autistic, please don’t ignore it or doubt their lived experience. Please take the time to talk with them about it. Ask them questions, try to better understand. It makes a big difference to use. You can see the pain of autism being ignored in my essays: A Letter to My Family Who Ignores that I'm Autistic A Letter to My Friend Who Won't Believe I'm Autistic
Now that I’ve written this article, I realize I’m not actually conflicted at all. My feelings about autism month are clearer than I realized. I’d like to keep doing the work I’m doing, while those that aren’t typically steeped in this work, pitch in a little too.