An autism dad shares how his family celebrates this notable month.
April is Autism Acceptance Month. It’s the time of year where we put an extra focus on Autism Spectrum Disorders and those affected by it. It helps bring the autism community together with walks and events that help autistic kids and their families get to know each other and helps put a focus on the groups that support autistic kids, their families, and their support systems.
Autism Acceptance vs. Autism Awareness
Autism Acceptance Month actually started as Autism Awareness Month and is still recognized that way by some.However, many in the autistic community have fought back against the National Awareness Day. Many autistic adults have identified the autism awareness campaigns as less than ideal. They have pushed for Autism Acceptance rather than Awareness, and I completely understand why.
For starters, the majority of the world is aware of autism. In my youth, before I was the parent of two autistic children, I was aware of autism, but my knowledge could best be described as superficial. While I never looked down on someone for being neurodivergent, I didn’t put a lot of effort into learning more, and awareness campaigns didn’t make me want to learn more. Honestly, the title “awareness campaign” can make it seem like autism is something to be feared, and nothing can be further from the truth.
Admittedly, it took my own son’s diagnosis to dig much deeper into autism spectrum disorder. Further reading helped me understand why so many in the autistic community want autism acceptance as opposed to autism awareness. Just because someone is aware of autism doesn’t mean they are accepting of an autistic person. Accommodations must be made for autistic people for them to truly be accepted.
Autism Acceptance Month
As stated earlier, every year April is recognized as Autism Acceptance Month. It’s a time where the autism community works to build a larger inclusive community for not just those on the autism spectrum, but neurotypical people as well. It’s designed to help everyone become more educated and to grow together. The main motivator for Autism Acceptance Month is the fact that autism continues to be the fastest growing developmental disability in the world.
The first nationwide effort for autism acceptance was launched by the Autism Society in 1972. It was called National Autistic Children’s Week. That grew and helped foster the more inclusive society the autistic community is seeking, with a few speed bumps along the way. The name was officially changed to Autism Acceptance Month in 2021.
Why Autism Acceptance Month Is Important
From a personal experience, my kids deserve to be accepted for who they are. My younger son Joey is currently seven years old. He is one of the most loving little boys you will ever meet, but anyone who meets him knows right away he is neurodivergent, whether their mind immediately jumps to autism spectrum disorder or not. Joey can’t talk, but he knows how to communicate with sign language and an AAC device. Joey still isn’t potty trained, although there are times he will find a way to ask to use the restroom. But, he is still a happy seven-year-old who just wants to watch television and loves to drum. He should be accepted for who he is.
My older son, Jeremy, is also on the autism spectrum. He does incredibly well academically but will often need special accommodations for emotional support needs. He gets overwhelmed easily, and that causes him to react in frustration. He’s also expressed that he doesn’t forget much. He’s been able to identify the exact day something happened in his life. It’s remarkably similar to a condition my brother has been diagnosed with called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, but Jeremy has not been tested for that, so he does not have an official diagnosis.
Jeremy is vastly different from Joey, and the world needs to know that his needs and accommodations must be different from Joey’s for either to truly be accepted. That’s a major reason Autism Acceptance Month is personally important for my family and myself.
How To Get Involved
If you have a family member on the autism spectrum and want to help foster acceptance, there are a variety of ways to get involved.
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There are several books on autism that you can read to learn more that will help you with your personal acceptance. They can also help you foster acceptance with others. There are also picture books that can help the sibling of an autistic child understand their sibling’s situation. These can help a neurotypical child be more accepting. Plus, if you read them together, it can be an amazing bonding time.
One book my family and I enjoyed is “The Reason I Jump.” It’s a powerful book that can help you and others on your acceptance journey.
TV Shorts and Specials
In recent years, companies like Disney, Pixar and Sesame Workshop have come a long way when it comes to showing a child on the autism spectrum. Sesame Street introduced Julia, the first autistic Muppet on the show. My wife and I took the time to sit down with Jeremy to show him when she was introduced (at the time only Joey had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder). Jeremy quickly turned to us and said “she acts just like Joey.”
Disney and Pixar have also made a couple of “Spark Shorts” that are currently available on Disney+ and tackle autism. “Float” and “Loop” provide two unique looks at situations for those on the autism spectrum and the actions of others. Both have helped my wife and me understand and be more accepting of something we had only slightly heard about growing up. There are also several reviews of these shorts available online for anyone who wants to read about them from an autistic person’s perspective.
There are a multitude of podcasts that advocate for the autism community. Finding one that is right for you can help foster your personal acceptance and help you guide others through their own acceptance journey. My son is a big Harry Potter fan, and I’ve heard him listening to one called “SPEW: Spectrum People Enjoying Wizardry.” It’s hosted by two autistic hosts who both love Harry Potter. There are hundreds of podcasts with different focuses, so I’m certain you can find one that will help you on your acceptance journey.
There are also walks every year as part of Autism Acceptance Month. While I understand there is some backlash because the very controversial Autism Speaks hosts a walk, there are other grassroots autism organizations that have far more respectable legacies that also host walks. For example, the Autism Project, located in Rhode Island, hosts its annual Imagine Walk on April 30th. Feel free to check out local autism groups near you and find a walk to participate.
Reach out to leaders in your local community to see what accommodations are available for people on the autism spectrum. Get involved as a volunteer for a sensory friendly day, or help run a sensory friendly area for autistic children and autistic adults. Community events are a great way for autistic people to get out in public, but they can also be overwhelming, so there will need to be some autism accommodations made.
Celebrate Your Autistic Children
Autism is recognized as a developmental disability, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a difficulty. Your autistic children deserve to be celebrated. They may have unique needs, but they deserve acceptance. April is the month that has been designated as Autism Acceptance Month. Many in the world are already accepting of autistic people, but with a little work, we can change it to where everyone on the spectrum is accepted year round.