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Autism Acceptance vs Awareness: Is There a Difference?

January 15, 2024

You have probably heard the terms “Autism Acceptance” and “Autism Awareness” used often. At first, they might seem similar, but they’re like two different paths leading to the same destination: understanding and supporting people with autism.

In many places, Autism Awareness Month is a big deal. People raise donations, share autism-related social media posts, and hold rallies. It’s a time to spread awareness of the challenges and celebrate the differences of those affected by autism.

In 2020, the Autism Society of America replaced “Awareness” with “Acceptance” for the first time. What’s behind this shift, and why do the words matter?

If you’d like to find out more about promoting autism awareness, you can download your free guide here:

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How You Can Promote Autism Awareness This April

Autism Acceptance: Is There Still a Long Way to Go?

Today, society has a greater awareness of autism than ever before. However, those affected by autism often face many struggles throughout life, from bullying and prejudice to limited job opportunities and access to health care.

Education about the autism community is important, but advocates argue that we shouldn’t stop there. Autistic people need awareness, acceptance, and inclusion for genuine community support. 

Autism Awareness vs Acceptance Month

The Autism Society of America isn’t the first autism organization to push for a rebranding of Autism Awareness Month.

Since 2011, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) has designated April as “Autism Acceptance Month.” ASAN emphasizes the importance of accepting autism as a natural part of the human experience to foster meaningful dialogue.

Other groups also use Autism Acceptance Month over Autism Awareness Month, including: 

  • the Association of University Centers on Disabilities,
  • Autistic Women and Non-Binary Network, and 
  • the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD).

In March 2021, the Autism Society of America encouraged the media to use new language in their coverage.

Christopher Banks, the President and CEO of the Autism Society, emphasized the importance of words, stating that they play a crucial role in promoting acceptance for individuals with autism.

Recognizing that acceptance is a key factor in building strong support systems, the organization continues to raise awareness and foster understanding.

Ultimately, the goal of Autism Acceptance Month is to be more inclusive of the community it seeks to celebrate. It promotes not just education about the differences of people with autism but understanding and respecting them.


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Why Do People On the Spectrum Need Autism Acceptance?

It may be challenging for someone not on the spectrum to understand just how important Autism Acceptance Month is.

It has many benefits for people with autism, including:

  • Enhanced self-esteem: Acceptance empowers people with autism to embrace their uniqueness, which boosts their self-esteem and helps reduce the stigma associated with this condition.
  • Promotes Inclusivity: Acceptance encourages inclusivity in schools, workplaces, and communities, which creates a more diverse society.
  • Improves mental health: Feeling accepted improves mental well-being and reduces anxiety and depression.
  • Promotes positive change: Autism acceptance encourages society to celebrate the diversity of human experiences.

What Does the Autistic Community Say About Acceptance?

Autistic people aren’t a monolith – everyone has their preference for what terminology they find empowering. Still, many support the shift from autism “awareness” to “acceptance.”

For example, Lyric Holmans, from the NeuroDivergent Rebel blog, explains:

  • Autism Awareness is knowing autistic people exist.
  • Autistic Acceptance is about embracing them as they are, with strengths and weaknesses.
  • Autistic Pride is when autistic individuals feel secure and confident, taking pride in their authentic neurodivergent selves. 

In a BBC article, Sarinah O’Donoghue suggests shifting from talking about autism in terms of “awareness” (often linked with disease) to a more positive “acceptance.” This change can destigmatize the condition, allowing autistic individuals to share their experiences on their own terms.

Elle Love, an author with autism, emphasized that raising awareness is just the beginning of discussing disability inclusion.

According to her, acceptance is crucial as it strengthens awareness. It highlights the importance of celebrating the unique abilities of neurodivergent individuals in our society.

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How You Can Promote Autism Awareness This April

Awareness Becomes Acceptance

Although there is still a lot for communities to learn about autism, it’s just as crucial for people to put what they know into action. The shift toward Autism Acceptance Month will hopefully lead to more resources for people on the spectrum and their families, better quality of life, and a more inclusive world.

Nobody can tell you which version of AAM to prefer — but we can all agree that April is a time to celebrate diversity, unite, and ignite change.

FAQs

Q: How can I improve my autism acceptance?

A: To improve autism acceptance, educate yourself, participate in local events, and advocate for those with autism. Be a positive role model by speaking up about autism and promoting awareness throughout the year.

Q: What is the color for autism acceptance?

A: Blue, linked to calmness and acceptance, is the main color for autism. On April 2nd, many people wear blue to show support for autism awareness as part of this campaign.

Q: What is the main difference between autism acceptance and autism awareness?

A: Autism acceptance goes beyond awareness by emphasizing understanding, inclusion, and celebrating neurodiversity. Awareness, while important, focuses more on acknowledging the condition’s existence.

Q: Are there any famous individuals with autism who have contributed significantly to acceptance?

A: Yes, there are several. Temple Grandin, for instance, is a renowned autistic advocate. She has made significant contributions to autism acceptance.

References:

Autistic advocates lead the way in widespread shift from autism awareness to autism acceptance
https://www.bcchr.ca/news/autism-acceptance

Experiences of Autism Acceptance and Mental Health in Autistic Adults
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5807490/

Understanding Autism: The Importance of Autism Acceptance
https://www.communityaccessnetwork.org/understanding-autism-the-importance-of-autism-acceptance/

Beyond Awareness: A Rallying Cry for Acceptance and Inclusion
https://awnnetwork.org/beyond-awareness-a-rallying-cry-for-acceptance-and-inclusion/

How to Increase Autism Awareness in Your Educational Setting
https://www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk/blog/how-increase-autism-awareness-your-educational-setting

The Stigma of Autism: When All Eyes Are Upon You
https://www.kennedykrieger.org/stories/interactive-autism-network-ian/autism-stigma

Why It Should Be Autistic “Acceptance” Month Instead of Awareness
https://www.unothegateway.com/why-it-should-be-autistic-acceptance-month-instead-of-awareness/

An autistic person’s take on Autism Awareness Week: ‘Acceptance is more important than awareness’
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/13rLW7FHQPD4P4cSKLNvzVg/an-autistic-persons-take-on-autism-awareness-week-acceptance-is-more-important-than-awareness

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