Autism Awareness Month: Acceptance Starts with Listening

By Tiffany “TJ” Joseph, Bened Life Neurodiversity & Disability Specialist

To me, autism acceptance means taking the time to learn from Autistic people directly. That means not just their families or those who specialize in autism for their careers. There are Autistic people who can’t speak, some who speak a little, and there are those who speak a lot that recount and share their experiences in life.

There are Autistic people with sensory differences, with other conditions, and every combination of traits possible that are sharing about their lives, including their passions, happiness and struggles. True acceptance comes from listening and learning from Autistic people directly and as many as possible. In statistics, the more research subjects, the more accurate the data and results will be. Learning from our community is no different.

Autism acceptance also means to me that the science, medical, and therapeutic communities learn from us, the Autistic and greater autism community. These fields disseminate information to not only individuals and families, but also the whole of society. So to me, they have the most important role of understanding us in-depth. They impart information to parents directly after diagnosis and can make or break an entire family with their words and resources.

I don’t say that to only get to know us through faceless text and numbers in journals. Knowing us holistically is even more crucial. We are out here, sharing through all forms of media: books, social media, documentaries, movie and TV show writing, stand-up comedy, poets, storytellers, and every other form of sharing that is available in this world. We are more than numbers in studies. Our real lives should be what others learn from. Yes, evidence-based practices have their place, but they can’t replace our lives, as autism is twisted inside every part of our lives.

What Autism Acceptance Means to Me 

Autism acceptance is an action. It’s a verb. Again, it means seeking out stories of autism from the most Disabled and marginalized Autistic people and families. Stories from other countries. Stories from older and elderly Autistic people. Stories from Autistic parents who also raise Disabled children. There are as many stories as there are Autistic people.

However, there is another side to April and Autism Awareness Month. Autistic adults tend to call the month Autistic ACCEPTANCE Month. That is the message we are trying to convey to the world; that we are humans who mostly believe we don’t need to be fixed. We want to be ourselves while being appreciated and not coerced to change.

Because of the dynamic between the camps of awareness and acceptance, there is a lot of anxiety for Autistic adults as well as families of Autistic people. Another reason for anxiety about this month is the disinformation. A lot of commercial and public campaigns are filled with stigmatized terms and poor understanding of autism.

However, there are so many things that all sides agree on. For instance, in April, we resent being tokens and being discarded once May 1st rolls around. What I mean by that is during the month of April, there are so many campaigns and puzzle pieces everywhere, which many Autistic adults especially dislike. There are police cars wrapped in them, companies change their logos to puzzle ribbons, schools have assemblies, libraries display autism books, etc…

These gestures are great in theory, but not when they are laden with stigmatized language and incorrect information in practice. Then, Autistic people and our families are left with the rest of the eleven months to deal with the consequences of being mistreated due to being mislabeled and misunderstood. Repeat year after year, ad nauseum.  

Autism Acceptance Month is difficult for some Autistic adults

What I Do During Autism Acceptance Month

I personally try not to focus too much attention on the month because, for me and millions of others, we spend all day, every single day of the year, trying to raise autism awareness and advocate for acceptance. Autism is our daily lives. That’s where the real awareness and acceptance lies – our daily lives and lived experiences tell you the most about autism. 

I mentioned above that learning from as many Autistic individuals as you can is the key to really understanding autism. But I was only partially correct. It’s just as important to listen to those people intently with a carefully open mind. Listen to the struggles, the passions, the everyday joys, and the systemic changes they want to see in this world. Because listening with intensity is the only way to get from mere awareness to acceptance.

And that’s what we want, right? To go from awareness to actual acceptance is the main goal. Accept us how we arrive on this planet. Don’t try to make us seem like the others. It’s amazing the amount of self-acceptance that comes when those around us accept us too. It’s amazing how our inner spirit feels at peace when we also accept ourselves as we are.

Your Takeaway for Autism Awareness Month

When it comes down to it, the greater autism community needs both acceptance as well as awareness of autism. We don’t have enough of either. People’s awareness isn’t very accurate, based on past and current misinformation. And that leads to either no acceptance or acceptance of the wrong things. 

For example, today people believe that every Autistic person has some hidden genius trait. Because of that, people tend to accept Autistic individuals based on the fact that we are worthy based on being a genius. Well, that is called Savant Syndrome, and the huge majority of Autistic people have zero genius traits. We are just like the general population in that regard. Yet, because of that misinformation, our acceptance is conditional. The condition is that despite our differences, we are only okay if we are special.

That’s where awareness comes in. People need to be aware of what misconceptions about autism currently exist so that they can give proper acceptance. Society needs to be aware that they have unlearning to do about what they think they know about autism and Autistic people. Only with this awareness will autism acceptance be sincere and accurate.


About the author:

TJ is an Autistic adult working in “accessible education” with teen and young adult Autistic non-speakers. She herself is Hard of Hearing and utilizes many ways to communicate including ASL, mouth words, and high-tech AAC (augmentative and alternative communication). Their passion in the disability space is communication and education rights for people of all disabilities. Find TJ on social media at Nigh Functioning Autism.

Other articles by Tiffany Joseph:

Top Five Books to Educate Yourself on Autism

The Meaning & Impact of Invisible Disabilities

Autistic Experience Series: The Grocery Store


Post a Comment!