Forget Autism Awareness. Wait, now hear me out. I think it’s fair to say that most people today know what autism is. So, now what? Now it’s time to move to the next step: Autism Acceptance.
Fifteen years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for people to ask me what autism was. It wasn’t well known then and classified students were usually sent to special schools. I taught in one of those schools. People didn’t know what it meant to be on the spectrum. They couldn’t understand why my students were nonverbal and made repetitive movements. Our field trips were as much of a learning opportunity to the general public as it was for my class.
* Cue the autism awareness movement. *
Since then, autism advocates have been so successful in spreading awareness that today, most people do know what autism is. Most of us even know someone with autism or are personally affected by it in some way. As a whole, it is safe to say that most people are now, at least, aware of autism.
Mission accomplished, right?
Autism Awareness Day is on April 2th. Some people wear blue to show their support. Others wear rainbow ribbon buttons or display autism themed car magnets. Autism awareness memes go viral on this day. Some people show their support year- round by painting pumpkins teal on Halloween. Surely this show of awareness is enough.
But what’s the point of any of it? Generally speaking, people tend to know that autism exists. So what’s the next step? It’s time to push further. It’s time for advocacy and acceptance.
The next step is to educate the public on a deeper level. We’re on the next chapter now. Everyone knows what autism is. It’s time to demonstrate understanding.
We need to spread awareness on:
- What it means to live with autism
- How to treat autistic people
- Accepting and including autistic students
- How to support people with autism
And the best way to learn these things is to …gasp… spend time with autistic individuals. Get the info straight from the source. Be with them, include them, love them, and learn. Some things you just can’t learn from a text book or the internet.
The one thing all people with autism have in common is that they are all totally unique. They don’t all fit the characteristics on Web MD. They definitely don’t look like their movie portrayals. They don’t look the same, they don’t act the same, and they don’t think the same. Much like people without autism.
Autism is a developmental disability. It isn’t something you wake up with one day from eating too much red dye 40. Autism is not a mental illness. It’s definitely not contagious. And it isn’t an excuse not to succeed.
Many people with autism live happy, successful, and fulfilling lives. Autism isn’t necessarily a hindrance and shouldn’t be viewed that way. It’s just a different way of being, and therefore a different way of living.
So whether you “Light It Up Blue,” or do “Red Instead” …. Whether you use people first terminology or identity first language… No matter what color you wear or paint your pumpkins… Let’s stay focused on our common goal. Let’s help people with autism by supporting, accepting, and including them in our lives.
Let’s teach our kids to invite the child with autism to play. Teach them not to be offended if the child declines the invitation. Teach them that some children learn differently and some kids cope differently. Teach them that some children seek comfort through sensory input. Teach them that others become upset or overwhelmed by too much sensory input.
Teach them that all children are different, autistic or not, and we must try our best to accept them as they are. Teach them tolerance, compassion, and open- mindedness.
We’ve achieved autism awareness. Now let’s spread autism acceptance.
I offer many resources in my TPT shop, Exceptional Thinkers to support the needs of children with autism. You can check those out (a few are featured below) or connect with me on social media. I’d love to hear from you!
Keep teaching. Keep learning.
~Christy from Exceptional Thinkers