By Leah Harris
This month, you may see references to both “Autism Acceptance Month” and “Autism Awareness Month.” What’s the story behind these dueling months?
“Autism Awareness Month” was started by advocacy groups led by non-autistic people and researchers, whose interest is primarily in curing or eradicating autism. For autistic folks, the word “awareness” has a ring of caution to it, and focuses mainly on deficits and stereotypes. Eleven years ago, autistic self-advocacy groups proclaimed a reclaiming and reframing of the month to “Autism Acceptance Month.”
In a 2021 statement marking AAM’s 10th anniversary, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), delved deeper into the real meaning of the month:
“It means fighting to ensure that the universal human rights of all autistic people are respected, including and especially the rights of those autistic people with the most significant disabilities. And autism acceptance means recognizing the ways ableism and racism interact in our society, following the leadership of autistic people of color, and making anti-racism a core part of our work.”
“Autism acceptance means standing up against those who promote debunked anti-vaccine rhetoric, attack self-advocates, or work to expand segregated settings like sheltered workshops and institutions.
Self-advocates criticize the trend of non-autistic people and organizations non-consensually talking over or on behalf of autistic people this month. But for autistic writer and influencer Lyric, AKA Neurodivergent Rebel, this trend seems to be slowly decreasing. “Every year I see less and less focus on these non-autistic voices in favor of Autistic ones. We are finally taking control of what should have always been ours. I'm encouraged by seeing the narrative change and thrilled that we can finally tell our own stories.”
For ASAN, “acceptance is an action” that “goes beyond the language we use:” “As autistic self-advocates have said from the beginning, we must move beyond acceptance — to representation, celebration, and liberation. Acceptance is not the end goal. It is the baseline, a call to do better, the starting line of the marathon. We can and must go beyond that starting point and run the race, even if we cannot even imagine the finish line. Only by continuing to move forward can we create the world our community deserves.”
For further exploration:
Leah Harris is a non-binary, queer, neurodivergent, disabled Jewish writer, facilitator, and organizer working in the service of truth-telling, justice-doing, and liberation. They’ve had work published in the New York Times, CNN, and Pacific Standard. You can learn more about their work at their website and follow them on Instagram.