For some parents, it means going blue in a variety of ways, posting information about autism, raising money for autism organizations, attending autism-related events. For other parents, it means boycotting various organizations. For some it means attending events but offering a message of hope and acceptance in the midst of the message of tragedy that brings in donations.
For some autistics, it means standing loudly and arguing against the awareness campaign, arguing that it as it is done by NTs trying to raise money for research for a cure, for treatments is HARMFUL to autistics. Awareness---there's plenty of awareness that autistics are different and the rhetoric of pro-cure organizations who engage in hyperbolic speech about the tragedy that autism is for families is DAMAGING.
But, but...we're just trying to help, the Autism organizations offer as a rejoinder, well-meaning parents insist. It's the only thing we've got, they say (I've said)--it's the ONLY THING here.
And they're both right. So what do we do?
Non-profits run on donations, so raising money is what they do. And in order to maximize donations, selling autism as an innate neurological difference that needs different ways of educating doesn't do the trick of maximizing the money coming into the coffers.
No, instead, we see the continually offered, but now slightly less dramatic:
"By way of comparison, more children are diagnosed with autism each year than with juvenile diabetes, AIDS or cancer, combined.* ASD affects over 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Moreover, government autism statistics suggest that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. There is no established explanation for this continuing increase, although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are two reasons often considered...* Comparison based on the prevalence statistics of the Child & Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative"
I can guarantee the sign, though, will still simply say "More children are diagnosed with autism each year than with juvenile diabetes, AIDS or cancer, combined." The extended paragraph available on Autism Speaks' website isn't pithy, catchy, or terrifying enough to bring those dollars in, and the reality is that most of the people at the walks across the country don't read the website.
So what does acceptance look like in the midst of the Awareness campaign? It looks like a lot of things.
It's Paula Durbin-Westby's Autism Acceptance Day and Month 2013 campaign, where she writes that, "Autism Acceptance Day is about embracing and cherishing autism and Autistic people. It is not about 'just tolerating' or putting up with us. It is also not about dismissing the very real difficulties that Autistic people face. Autism is clearly a disability as well as a difference."
It's ASAN's Autism Acceptance Month, "a celebration of Autistic culture and community."
It's different autistic bloggers with their take on what it means to be autistic and what April is like to them (see The Caffeinated Aspie and Drive Mom Crazy). It's parents and allies offering positive stories to counter the tragic stories.
It is a diversity of opinions and beliefs, a chorus of voices offering their stories.
Acceptance means different things to different people, just as awareness does. Acceptance, to me, means letting that diversity of thoughts wash over me, taking into account other people's perspectives and acknowledging that each of us sees the world through our own eyes, that the diversity of voices found on the autism blogs directory is good, desirable, necessary.
Acceptance...I don't want my community to just be aware of autism. Autism Awareness? What about Autistic Awareness? When the month is run as a way to offer scary numbers and stereotypes, what have we really done? Why isn't this a month about celebrating autistic individuals in their diversity and their inherent value?
Why isn't this month about accepting that we are all different, we are all unique, and that we all have value? We all belong here, in our communities, in this world, and should have the support we need to achieve our potential?
It shouldn't just be about Autism, either, but about all our beautiful minds. But that should be every day of every month, shouldn't it? Acceptance isn't one day, one month. It's every day, every month, every year.
Acceptance should be of the totality of our experiences, the reality that some individuals have greater issues, greater challenges and face greater adversity. Acceptance of those individuals means not standing by and doing nothing, but working to create a society that embraces diversity and supports it by putting into place real safety nets, resources that help all individuals find meaningful work, whatever that looks like for them, creates the most autonomy possible and safeguards against abuses for those who need assistance
Acceptance is messy. It is noisy. It is different. It doesn't mean doing nothing. It doesn't mean merely tolerating others. Acceptance is listening, empathizing, embracing, forgiving and flexible.