Autism Awareness and Acceptance

Today is the last day of Autism Awareness Month.

You may have noticed that I didn’t post anything about it this year. I didn’t mention Autism Awareness Day, I didn’t “Light It Up Blue,” nothing.

Why?

There are actually a few reasons.

First of all, I think I’ve said all I can say about Autism Awareness. Current statistics show that 1 in 59 children are identified as having an autism spectrum disorder. That’s an unbelievable number, and means that you probably know not just one, but at least several autistic individuals. People don’t need to just be made aware anymore…they need to move on to accepting autism and all that it entails.

Many therapies are designed to make autistic people “fit” into society. Sometimes, this is done to an extreme, where it does more harm than good to the individual. You can’t just make autism go away, and trying to mask it, to hide it, to make a person seem as though he or she is not autistic, denies part of who they are. There is a huge difference between teaching coping mechanisms, which help individuals function at times they feel beyond uncomfortable, and trying to force people into being someone they are not, someone they were never designed to be. I have never felt this more strongly than when reading this recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, which describes an Easterseals training session in such a way that it sounds more like training a dog than helping a person.

Even more than that, though, is the fact that I have come to understand the problems that autistic adults have with Autism Speaks, and by extension, events that organization has made popular, including “Light it Up Blue,” Autism Awareness, and the puzzle piece logo. Some of these people feel (rightly, I think) that Autism Speaks does not have their best interests at heart, and would choose to eradicate the condition altogether if possible. This is a hard topic, and one I have struggled with as a parent, but in the end, I know that autism is part of who my son is, and if he were not autistic, he would not be the young man I know and love. So how can I support an organization that would prefer to eliminate part of what makes him who he is?

I know this is a difficult subject, and one that people have very divided opinions on. My opinions on it have changed drastically over the last decade. But it an important subject, and deserves much more than lip service. We need to really think, not just about the fact that autistic people exist, but about how we’re treating them, and how we can make them feel accepted just the way they, without trying to force them into our neurotypical frameworks. So for now, I am more of a proponent of Autism Acceptance than anything else, because I know I want my son to be accepted just as he is, for who he is, because he is a unique, wonderful, interesting person, just the way he is!

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