Awareness versus acceptance: April is world Autism Acceptance Month

Carol Baldwin
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Wakaw Recorder

April is World Autism Acceptance Month. The Autism Society of America writes, “We believe that acceptance is creating a world where everyone in the Autism community is connected to the support they need when they need it. And by everyone, we mean every unique individual: the implacable, inimitable, and irreplaceable you.”

Formerly known as Autism Awareness Month, this month is meant to highlight the issues people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families encounter and to celebrate and destigmatize the ASD community. The change in name to Autism Acceptance Month was made to shift emphasis away from the perspective of autism as an illness to accepting autism as just another natural part of a vast diversified human experience. The phrase autism awareness emphasizes awareness of the condition’s existence rather than emphasizing understanding, inclusion, acceptance, and celebration of individuals with autism. Autism awareness has already been achieved and it is acceptance that is needed to push change forward.

In 2012, the Canadian Parliament passed the World Autism Awareness Day Act, recognizing April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day. In Canada, approximately one in fifty children and youth are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Interestingly, with the Saskatchewan Government embroiled in a rancorous negotiation impasse with teachers who want more supports for students in classrooms some of which undoubtedly would be on the ASD spectrum, the government was silent on April 2nd in this regard. 

Stereotypes of individuals with ASD linger based largely on the early definitions of the disorder. Autism was defined by an impairment in social interaction, repetitive and restrictive behaviours, and delays in developmental functions. In addition to language delays, other impairments could include poor eye contact, trouble maintaining conversations, and a lack of imaginative play. This seemingly rigid catalogue of ‘deficiencies’ resulted in a stereotype of an individual unable to contribute very much of anything to society.

Autism was viewed as something to be cured or eliminated. Over the years, the understanding of autism has evolved to where it is acknowledged in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a spectrum disorder with symptoms of varying severity along a spectrum, and autistic people themselves are speaking up, claiming their neurodivergence and valuing it. The autistic mind works differently, but it is not subpar to the non-autistic mind. 

Many people form their perception of autism based on movies like Rain Man, or popular television series like Big Bang Theory or The Good Doctor rather than real-life interactions and use those perceptions to further stereotype people with autism. Stereotypes such as all autistic people are highly intelligent, lack empathy for others, are anti-social and loners, and lack social skills create barriers between neurotypical and neurodivergent people that leave the neurodivergent individual outside looking in. The mission of Autism Acceptance Month is to educate the new generation in fostering acceptance and kindness towards the autistic community. 

There are approximately 70 million recognized cases of autism worldwide. The increasing occurrences of autism in the world means it is time the general public is factually educated on the disorder to inspire change and support. This month reminds us to be empathetic, warm, and welcoming to autistic individuals and families around us. By asking questions, listening to the life stories of autistic people, and setting aside preconceived ideas society can embrace the fact that just as not all people look the same, not all people think the same.

“Ella Autie,” a story of a 4th grader battling society with autism is a fantastic way to educate kids during this month and start important conversations. Acceptance of autism ensures that Saskatchewan’s motto “From many peoples strength” means more than just acceptance of diverse cultures.