Why Autism Acceptance Matters
By Ari Ne’eman
Autistic Self-Advocacy Network
T.S. Elliot once wrote that April is the cruelest month. For Autistic adults and youth, this is largely true. Every year when April rolls around, I meet the month with a certain degree of caution and fear. Starting a few weeks beforehand and ending a few weeks afterwards, we can expect a barrage of calls for awareness, fundraising and ceremony relating to autism, all of it done about us and little of it done with our involvement. April is a month of difficult conversations, of trying to explain to family members and friends that the “very special episode” about autism they just saw on television isn’t a perfect description of your life, or attempting to describe to the person behind the shopping counter that, “No, I don’t wish to make a donation on behalf of awareness, I’m already quite aware enough, thank you very much.”
It isn’t that we don’t understand the good intentions that motivate awareness-raising activities of all types. The family members, television executives, retail stores and many, many others that solicit donations and participate in any number of other types of awareness schtick are unquestionably trying to help. Yet, after spending so long hearing cries for awareness – a word that requires no understanding or real change in behavior on the part of the population without disabilities – a fatigue sets in. After watching too many public buildings light themselves up blue while inside the usual suspects approve another round of budget cuts, one starts to yearn for something more meaningful than the seasonal awareness activity.
Acceptance means more than just making a donation or putting up an advertisement. Acceptance requires change – even hard change – that gets to the real issues about how people’s lives are impacted by the way our society operates. An Autism Acceptance movement would ask the hard questions about how we can build more inclusive schools. It would challenge the status quo that allows hundreds of thousands of Americans with disabilities to remain in institutions and segregated employment and educational contexts. It would help challenge each and every one of us to think about how ableism – the systematic structures of power that discriminate against people with disabilities in our society – shows up in our daily lives and day to day interactions. This kind of acceptance asks a lot more than simple awareness – but in the end, it delivers a far more satisfying result.
Ari Ne’eman cofounded the Autistic Self Advocacy Network in 2006. He also serves on the President’s National Council on Disability.