April is Autism Awareness Month. Alternatively, it’s Autism Acceptance Month. As an autistic person myself, I can’t stand Autism Awareness Month, and I know that many people on the spectrum agree with me. In lieu of that, I like to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month. “It’s just a difference in semantics,” one may argue, but I have my reasons, such as…
Everybody is aware of autism, but not everyone accepts it.
Let me be as straightforward as possible: Autism Awareness is not necessary. Everybody is aware of autism. There aren’t many people who haven’t heard of it. The problem is that there are way too many people who refuse to accept autistic people. By and large, when autistic people are brought into the equation, our society either ignores them or stigmatizes them. I think that it’s not enough to just acknowledge that autistic people exist; the focus should be on eliminating stigma and teaching others respect for autistic people.
The goddamn puzzle pieces.
The puzzle piece is a commonly-used symbol for autism awareness, symbolizing the need to solve the “puzzle” of autism. Except that I’m not a puzzle. I’m a person. The puzzle piece is dehumanizing; it implies that autistic people are broken and need to be fixed.
“Light It Up Blue” is a campaign by Autism Speaks, which is just as it sounds: someone turns on a blue light to show their “solidarity” with autistic people (that is, with Autism $peaks.) As I said before, a light doesn’t have to be shone on autism. There are many problems with this organization: 1) They support eugenics to get rid of autistic people; basically, a pest control organization trying to get rid of something that isn’t a pest. They seem to not even see us as human beings with the right to exist. 2) They use the money donated more to line the pockets of the people in charge of the organization; very little money goes toward helping autistic people. 3) They released a documentary where a mother admitted that when her autistic daughter was diagnosed, she contemplated driving her off a bridge, and the only thing stopping her was was that her “normal” daughter was at home. She said this with the child in the room with her. 4) They don’t have a single autistic person on their board. Basically, we’re not allowed to represent ourselves.
Half the time, it’s all about the parents.
I get it. Parenting an autistic child is hard, but so is parenting any child. A lot of the time, autism anecdotes are sob stories about how hard life is for the parents. A child is having trouble getting along with others, gets bullied, has teachers who don’t like him, and live in a society that shuns him…and now Mommy and Daddy are whining about him behind his back about how hard life is for them. Sorry to burst your bubble, but parenting an autistic child doesn’t make you stronger or better than everyone else. By making the story about the parents, you are taking the focus away from helping autistic people cope in this world, making it more autism-friendly, and reducing stigma.
Because of the stigma, autistic people suffer.
I know many autistic people, and too many of them say things like, “I wish I was normal.” “If only I could get rid of this wretched disability and have the same capabilities as normal people.” At a certain point in my life, this is how I felt every day: disgusted when I looked in the mirror. All I saw was autism; all I saw was a caricature of what a human should be, not because I was a caricature, but because that’s what our society teaches autistic people. We’re trained from an early age to hate ourselves; we’re told that we will never be able to measure up to “normal people,” that we’ll always fail, struggle, and fall short, no matter how hard we try. We are told to look people in the eye, to stop fidgeting, to control ourselves when we’re having meltdowns, and to fake normalcy, because our autism is a terrible thing that robs us of many opportunities that are given to everyone else. Because of this rampant bigotry, autistic children are “28x more likely to attempt suicide” than non-autistic children, according to Psychology Today. The autism community suffers from high rates of depression, in part due to mistreatment. Autistics also have a higher rate of obesity.
If you want to help autistic people this month, spread acceptance, not awareness.