The Problem with Autism Awareness Month: An Autistic Person's Perspective
April is widely known as Autism Awareness Month, a time when many organizations and individuals strive to raise awareness about the Autism Spectrum. As an autistic individual myself, I appreciate the effort to spread awareness, but I believe that Autism Awareness Month often misses the mark in truly understanding and supporting autistic people. In this article, I want to shed light on the issues with Autism Awareness Month from the perspective of someone who is actually autistic.
Superficial Awareness: While Autism Awareness Month aims to raise awareness about autism, it often falls short of truly educating people about the complexities of autism spectrum disorder. Many awareness campaigns focus solely on superficial traits, such as repetitive behaviors or difficulties with social skills, without delving into the broader range of experiences and challenges that autistic individuals face. This limited understanding perpetuates stereotypes and misconceptions about autism, reinforcing the idea that autism is a monolithic condition with a fixed set of characteristics.
"Othering" of Autistic People: Autism Awareness Month often perpetuates the "othering" of autistic individuals by treating them as a separate group that needs to be understood or cured. This approach can create a sense of exclusion and marginalization, making autistic individuals feel like they are different or abnormal. Autism is not a disease or a disorder to be cured; it is a neurodivergent identity that is a natural variation of human diversity. Instead of focusing on "fixing" or "curing" autism, we should be promoting acceptance, inclusion, and understanding of neurodiversity.
Lack of Autistic Voices: Many Autism Awareness Month campaigns are led and driven by non-autistic individuals, with only minimal representation of actual autistic voices. Surprisingly to some well-known organizations, many of us can speak for ourselves and have more relevant and authentic input than nonautistic individuals and organizations. This exclusion of autistic voices can perpetuate the idea that autistic individuals are not capable of speaking for themselves or advocating for their own needs. Autistic individuals have their unique perspectives and insights that should be included in discussions about autism, as they are the true experts of their own experiences.
Ignoring the Dark Side of Autism: While Autism Awareness Month often focuses on the strengths and talents of autistic individuals, it tends to ignore the darker side of autism, such as the challenges, discrimination, and stigma that many autistic individuals face. Autistic individuals often face difficulties with sensory sensitivities, communication, social interactions, and mental health issues, among other challenges. Ignoring these struggles can create an unrealistic and incomplete picture of autism, disregarding the real issues that autistic individuals face on a daily basis.
Lack of Action: Autism Awareness Month sometimes lacks concrete actions to create meaningful change for autistic individuals. It is not enough to simply raise awareness; we need to take action to promote inclusion, acceptance, and support for autistic individuals in all aspects of life, including education, employment, healthcare, and social interactions. This can include advocating for policy changes, promoting neurodiverse hiring practices, providing resources and support for autistic individuals and their families, and fostering inclusive communities where autistic individuals can thrive.
While Autism Awareness Month aims to raise awareness about autism, it often falls short of truly understanding and supporting autistic individuals. It is essential to move beyond superficial awareness, avoid "othering" autistic individuals, include autistic voices in the conversation, acknowledge the challenges of autism, and take meaningful actions to promote inclusion and acceptance. As we strive for a more inclusive and accepting society, it is crucial to prioritize the perspectives and voices of autistic individuals themselves and work together to create a world where neurodiversity is celebrated and embraced. Let's move beyond mere awareness and towards genuine acceptance and inclusion of autistic individuals throughout the year, not just in the month of April.
During this month please please join me in promoting a neurodiversity-affirming world. The autistic neurotype is not a disease, does not need to be cured, and is a valid neurotype in its own right. Please do not hold autistic people to neurotypical standards of communication, social or gender constructs, social skills, appearances, or neurotypical standards of emotional and self-regulation. Don't assume that we are intellectually impaired. And most of all do not speak for us. With the exception of family members who might help facilitate communication for us at times, and those protecting and advocating for their autistic children in affirming ways, do not let your allistic voices override the voices of the autistic community in deciding what is best for our community. #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs.
Amy Duffy-Barnes, LMSW