On October 22nd, 1998, I was diagnosed with Autism. Over the past 20 years, I have faced many challenges including how my disability is represented in mainstream media. As you all may know, April is Autism Awareness Month. This is how the mainstream media chooses to “celebrate” our community when in reality they are inadvertently harming our community with the choice of the word “Awareness”. Our voices are starting to being heard but we need to take it up a notch. As a member of the Autistic community, I think that it is crucial that the month of April should be changed to Autism Acceptance Month. Making this change will give Autistic people a voice, their own identity, and the respect they deserve.
The word “awareness” is defined as concerned about and well-informed interest in a particular situation or development. Using the phrase “Autism Awareness” has basically been translated to “Warning: Autistic people exist, please proceed with caution” which perpetuates fear, uncertainty, and anxiety towards the Autistic community. Unfortunately, this is the way the mainstream media chooses to represent our community. This portrayal is extremely harmful to our community because it highlights all negative aspects of the disability and pushes for a “cure” for Autism. Autism does not need to be “cured” because it is a social disability. Neurotypicals tend to interpret this information in two ways. One way is that we are a burden to society. This allows bullying, harassment, and social isolation to occur without any repercussions. The second way is that we are charity cases. This allows neurotypicals to try and fix us so we fit in with the neurotypical majority. Both of these ways are harmful to our mental health because they dehumanize us. The mainstream treats us like we are the problem that needs to be solved when in reality how we are portrayed is the problem that should be solved.
The word “acceptance” is defined as an agreement with or belief in an idea, opinion, or explanation. Using the phrase “Autism Acceptance” portrays a mutual understanding between the Autistic community and neurotypical majority. It is basically saying “you are you, and that’s pretty awesome. I am me, and that’s pretty awesome” which perpetuates equality, fairness, inclusion, and love towards the Autistic community. It looks at the commonalities we share with neurotypical people. The mainstream media needs to know that we have the same wants and needs as any other neurotypical person has, we just go about them in our own unique way. Using the word “acceptance” embraces us as we truly are, gets to know us on a deeper level, and sees us as multi-dimensional humans. Acceptance allows to enact our stims, quirks, and habits freely without judgment or punishment knowing that they are part of who we are. Most importantly, acceptance is about equality. Acceptance is viewing the wants and needs of the Autistic person to be equally as important as the wants and needs of a neurotypical person.
The mainstream media is our society’s main source of information. It can control the majority of the public’s perception on any topic including Autism. That is why it is critical that the mainstream media should change Autism Awareness month to Autism Acceptance month. This simple change would push for a more positive rhetoric and do wonders for their mental health. If the media highlighted all the positive aspects of Autism, the Autistic community would get treated with respect that they deserved. Using this rhetoric, the neurotypical majority would have a better understanding of the Autistic community. This will give us more opportunities to grow in multiple aspects of our lives. The more opportunities people with Autism have, the more likely they will be able to reach their full potential. Having our needs, wants, and desires be taken seriously would be a blessing for the Autistic community. More importantly, it would humanize us. Neurotypicals would be more likely to treat us as their equally and accept us for who we are. This type of treatment will create more confident, emotionally secure, and happier community of people with Autsim. This change is nessacery in order to create a better, healthier world for the Autistic community.
I know that it is halfway through April which means it is halfway through Autism Acceptance month. It is nice that we have a month to celebrate our existence and educate others about Autsim. However, celebrating and supporting the Autistic community should not just be happening in the month of April, it should be happening all year round. Autistic people have to face many adversities because of the stigma surrounding their disability. It is critical that the neurotypical majority utilizes the aspects of Autism Acceptance month and applies them when interacting with the Autistic community. This will help the Autistic community become more productive members of this society. We are much more then what the mainstream media says we are and it is about time that we have the opportunity to show it.