By Micaela Ellis- Teen Autism Advocate and Former Lighthouse Student
April is Autism Acceptance Month! Autism Acceptance month is an important month. Many people prefer Autism Acceptance over Autism Awareness, because awareness implies that autism is something that needs a cure. Meanwhile acceptance means that autism is a neurotype that needs understanding. It shows that autistic people are people who deserve understanding and acceptance just like everyone else.
It’s easy to be aware, but it takes work and challenging your internal biases to be accepting towards other people. It means looking at autism through a nuanced lens, understanding that autism is what makes a person who they are, that it can’t just magically go away without erasing a core part of people. On the other hand, we need to acknowledge that autism can be a disability for many people and attempting to reframe it as a “different ability” is harmful in its own way. Autism is considered a disability because we live in a word that was not built for us. While there are different cultures in different places, in a capitalist society like the United States, how much you can work is placed above the quality of life and people believe that your success in the workplace determines your value. If someone cannot work because socializing and communicating with people all day is too exhausting or there is too much sensory stimuli for them, then people don’t see their value. A lot of the ideas of success for people are rooted in capitalism and “traditional values” like getting a house, getting married, and having kids which may not be attainable for some people.
April can be a hard month for some autistic people because many organizations that speak on behalf of autistic people use pathologizing language and imply that autism needs a cure. When people put up their blue puzzle piece decorations, “light it up blue,” and imply that autism needs a cure, it can be very disappointing and a bit of a downer, to be honest. While I don’t think that people have malicious intent when they talk about the “rates of autism” or the “epidemic,” it’s heartbreaking to know that people demonize a core part of my existence just because it’s not convenient enough for them.
Autism Awareness Month feels performative to me because it’s all about the blue. There’s no shift in philosophy, and just telling someone to “be aware” doesn’t mean much. Adding blue decorations to your store for autism doesn’t mean much and it provides no benefit other than being aesthetically pleasing. It doesn’t directly benefit autistic people and it can alienate them at the same time.
If something is performative, it means that it’s ingenuine, inauthentic, and the motive behind doing something is to get the attention and approval of other people. The reason why I don’t like the “light it up blue movement” is because it is often associated with the notion that autism is a disease that needs to be cured, and it evokes a similar vibe to the notion that an autistic person needs to conform to neurotypical standards, even if it is emotionally or physically damaging. Some people say that blue for autism was also coined by a certain organization (I‘m not naming names here) because of the idea that autism is more prevalent in boys. Really, the issue is that autistic women and people assigned female at birth are diagnosed less because of the stereotypes created on how boys and girls are supposed to act and present their gender.
While this whole blog post could be me airing my grievances, I want to offer some advice. Some advice I have for autistic people struggling during April is to take breaks from social media or the news. It is important to be knowledgeable about current events, but not at the cost of your mental health. If you do want to be on social media, but you don’t want “autism awareness” ads or posts recommended to you, you can click “show less posts like this” or “not interested,” and you’ll get less posts like that recommended to you.
Avoid visiting websites that promote “cure culture” or demonize autism. I’ve come across some websites that have promoted negative views on autism and have left me feeling discouraged and dehumanized. While resilience is important, it is important to know when to leave situations where you feel uncomfortable or threatened.
Some advice that I have for people who want to observe and celebrate Autism Acceptance Month is:
- Ask autistic people what accommodations they need in order for your store or school to be accessible to them. If you are an educator and you have a student who has a hard time focusing with the bright classroom lights, create a solution so they can learn and thrive just like everyone else in their classroom. Don’t belittle them because they’re autistic and have more challenges than their non-autistic and neurotypical peers.
- It’s also important that you do your research on autism. Good resources on autism to find information about autism include The Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network and The Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
- Expand your library. Read and/or listen to books written by and about autistic people. When I was twelve, I wrote a book about my life growing up as an autistic person. It’s called Autism Over the Years: A Twelve Year-Old’s Memoir and you can order it from Amazon or from my website directly. In the book I use person-first language but since then, my way of referring to and understanding my autism has changed. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any validity to my stories that I share in my book, they still matter. I am currently reading Different Not Less: A neurodivergent’s guide to embracing your true self and finding your happily ever after, by Chloe Hayden, who is an autistic actress and activist.
- If you want to host any events, use red to symbolize autism acceptance and use the rainbow infinity symbol to represent neurodiversity, and refrain from using the color blue and the puzzle piece. The puzzle piece was created because it symbolized that there was a “missing piece” to autistic children and that it was a “puzzling” condition. The logo was paired with a weeping child in front of the puzzle piece. The puzzle piece also feels patronizing because it implies that autism is just a children’s thing. I’m seventeen, and I’m still autistic, and I’m going to be autistic for the rest of my life. There are many autistic adults in the world and they need to be addressed as well.
- Understand that you learn as you go in life and some of the things you learned before don’t apply to everyone or just don’t apply nowadays. Some people get offended when you tell them that many people prefer the word “autistic” over “person with autism.” Some people think that “autistic” is a bad word and many people prefer person-first language, but I prefer to say that I am autistic over saying that I am a “person with autism,” because my autism is a part of me – I was born autistic and I will live the rest of my life as autistic. Autism colors every experience that I have. If my autism was removed from me, I would not be the same person, and I am completely happy with who I am. Many other autistic people have a similar viewpoint and it irks some non-autistic people. I can imagine that it’s frustrating to learn that what you learned in higher education settings doesn’t apply nowadays or it isn’t applicable to everyone. However, language has to change over time and it’s important that it reflects everyone.
I hope this information and these suggestions help. I didn’t want this blog to be a downer, but I want to express my opinions and suggest ways to be more inclusive to autistic people of all ages.
Stay tuned for more blog posts!
If you live in or you are close to Ventura County, consider stopping by to listen to me present about autism!
- Saturday, April 8th 2023, 11:00 AM, E.P. Foster Library| Ventura, CA
- Saturday, April 15th 2023, 11:00 AM, Oxnard Public Library | Oxnard, CA
Check out Micaela’s website and more of her blog articles in the link down below!