Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Day 28: Acceptance is not Awareness

*Today I'm linking with a fellow blogger Jennifer, aka Full Spectrum Momma, on today's topic.  You can check it out here.  

The month of April nearing its end.

Autism Awareness Month is winding down.

For many, this is a great relief.


Because awareness is very different from acceptance.

Are these words so really so different?

In a word, yes.

The distinction is quite important because the Autism Awareness movement, sponsored by organizations such as Autism Speaks, has a very particular agenda.

This month has morphed over the years into a publicity campaign designed to create deep rooted associations between autism and tragedy, devastation, epidemic, and fear.

We see messages like these on our Facebook pages:

Or this:

No smiles for either of you...

Or this one on billboards or buses driving by on the streets:

Some of you may not see anything wrong with these ads. 

You may view them as public service announcements, calling for an end to a devastating disease that ruins the lives of many.

Sadly, this has become the popular view of what autism is.

Sadly, these are some of the first messages that a parent sees when their precious child is diagnosed with autism.  They are among the first hits on a simple Google search of the word "autism".

The video “I am Autism” produced by Autism Speaks portrays Autism as the bogeyman who steals our children away.

This is why awareness campaigns concern me greatly.

Because, unlike cancer and diabetes, autism is not a life-threatening disease.

Autism is not something that person "gets," as the ad above implies in a sadistically humorous parody of the "Got Milk" campaign.

I don't seek to minimize the struggles that many autistic individuals face every day.  These are very real.

Autistic individuals may live with challenges, but they also have many wonderful traits that can enrich their lives.  These strengths rarely become part of the conversation unless we are discussing prodigies or savants or those who have "overcome" their autism.

Contrary to popular belief, autism is not something that can be "cured".

Ask an autistic adult and they will tell you that autism is a part of who they are.  It is an integral part of their identity, both the challenges and the strengths.  

And so, when ads such as the one above call for an end of autism, these adults see this as a call to wipe out people like themselves. 

Ads like this paint a bleak picture of the futures for children such as mine.  This leads to fear and devastation in the hearts of parents, but, even worse, it leads to feelings of worthlessness within the autistic person.  Who wants to be viewed as a burden to society or something that needs to be eliminated? 

Which leads me to the concept of ableism.

I had never even heard of the word ableism until about a year ago.

I had to look it up in the dictionary, and this is what I found:

Ableism is a form of discrimination against people with disabilities. 

It is the belief, whether conscious or unconscious, that non-disabled people are inherently superior.

Ableism is believing that people are automatically better, or have better lives, or have better brains or bodies because they aren’t disabled. (www.autismacceptancemonth.com)

Ableism is often so subtle that those of us without disabilities may completely miss it if we’re not looking for it.

Sadly, however, examples of the ableism exist all around us.

We see it in the belief that individuals with disabilities should learn to fit into our world, and when they cannot adapt, then they should be put in a more restrictive, isolated setting.

We see it when others make fun of those who act differently.

We hear it in jokes made at the expense of those with disabilities or when people say things like "He's acting so autistic". 

The mindset is reinforced in books, television, and movies.

Autism Awareness Month is coming to a close, but the question remains- 
Are we as a society truly more aware?
And, if so, what “awareness” messages have we received?
That it is okay for a mother to throw her autistic child off a bridge because he is just too much to handle?
That millions of children across the globe are in danger because of the “disease” known as autism?
That autism will steal our children away if we’re not watchful and vigilant?
That autistic individuals are lepers and “the least of us”?
When we listen to these messages, we must consider who is doing the talking.  In this case, powerful organizations such as Autism Speaks are sending certain messages loud and clear.  Meanwhile, the voices of autistic adults are often missing from the conversation.

Certainly challenges exist for autistic individuals and we need to work together to find solutions to face these challenges.

More job opportunities are needed for autistic adults.

Better housing options are needed for the growing numbers of adults aging out of the system.

We need more innovative communication tools to assist those who cannot speak through traditional methods.

Our society needs to get a lot better at finding ways to accommodate those with sensory differences.

There is so much work to do.

But our conversation cannot end there.

We must look beyond our definition of normal in order to recognize the true worth and potential in others.

We must recognize ableist thinking when we see it and call it for what it is.

It begins with eliminating certain words from our vocabulary, starting with the “r-” word.

It begins with changing our beliefs about the capabilities of others.

It begins with listening to the voices of those who we say we are supporting in the first place.

Awareness is not nearly enough.

It begins with acceptance.

It ends with respect.


  1. Yeah, let's wipe our Einstein and Beethoven and Robin Williams and Jerry Seinfeld and Daryl Hannah and me and our kids...

    I just feel sick right now !

    Thank you for this beautiful , strong, crystal clear call to all those who do not see all people as equal, able to contribute in their own ways, and worthy of respect!

    I'm truly honored to be linked.

    Thanks, love and RESPECT,

    1. Thanks for linking with me. Hopefully we can collaborate more in the future!

  2. Nice blog. I didn't know what ABLEISM meant either until this last year. I tried to explain it to my husband yesterday. Thanks for the definition

    1. Thanks for reading, and glad to assist.


Please add a comment here.