It’s World Autism Awareness Week. However, if i’m honest, I thought twice about mentioning it here – I even briefly considered ignoring it altogether! Why?
Well, I know that Autism Awareness Week has links to Autism Speaks – the controversial US organisation. And there is now a counter movement for ‘Autism Acceptance’, who say that autistic people should be valued for who they are, rather than be expected to adapt to neurotypical expectations.
So does marking Autism Awareness Week mean that I support Autism Speaks? Absolutely not! But is that how it will be perceived? Possibly. So should I then call it Autism Acceptance Week? But other organisations (like the National Autistic Society) call it Autism Awareness – isn’t that just going to cause confusion for the general public? And of course, not forgetting the ‘people with autism’ or ‘autistic people’ dilemma (sorry if I’ve got it wrong here!) Anyway, you can perhaps see why I was ‘umming and aahing’ about the whole thing! I genuinely want to get it right – I’m not looking to support any one organisation, or to cause offence to people on the spectrum.
And therein lies the danger in the arguments between autistic movements – rather than encouraging healthy discussion, there’s a risk that people will just stop talking about autism altogether. If someone starts talking about awareness and gets jumped on by the acceptance movement, or promotes acceptance just to be shouted down as unrealistic and naive by a distressed parent (both of which I’ve seen happen on a number of occasions), they might decide that it’s easier to just keep quiet.
Surely there should be a place for both! Yes, acceptance might be the ultimate aim, but we need to remember that for many people, their only knowledge of autism comes from the negative media stereotypes and ‘curing’ mentality promoted by organisations such as Autism Speaks. If that’s your only experience of autism, then expecting acceptance at that stage is possibly a leap too far – we need to educate first. Once people understand that autism isn’t the scary monster that it’s portrayed as – then we can can move to acceptance.
I have no idea how this blog will be received – it may well be that I just get shouted down by both sides of the argument! And if I am….. well, so be it. I’m the first to admit that I don’t always get it right! But whether it’s awareness or acceptance, at least I’m talking about autism – and I think that’s a good start!
You can find out more about Autism Awareness Week on the NAS website here
And you can learn more about Autism Acceptance here