April is Autism Awareness Month – It’s Time for Autism Acceptance

by | Apr 8, 2022 | Autism

Autism Has Been Around for A While

The first person diagnosed with autism was Donald Triplett. He was diagnosed in 1943, 79 years ago. Donald is also the subject of the book In A Different Key, which has been made into a movie.

April was first designated as Autism Awareness Month by the Autism Society in 1970, 52 years ago. Autism was first recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Third Edition (DSM-III) in 1980, 42 years ago. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) determined that the prevalence of autism in 2021 was 1 in every 44 children.

Given how long autism has been around and how many children are diagnosed with autism, isn’t it about time we moved from awareness to acceptance? Click To Tweet

Given how long autism has been around and how many children are diagnosed with autism, isn’t it about time we moved from awareness to acceptance? Children and adults with autism are not anomalies. They are a part of our community and deserve to be recognized as such.

“Disability” or “Differently Abled”?

Autism may be categorized as a “disability” but that term is useful only for purposes of obtaining appropriate support and accommodations in school, employment, or other environments, or to obtain government benefits. The term “disability” implies that the person is “less than” others. However, people with autism would be more appropriately characterized as “differently-abled” with different individuals requiring different types and degrees of support. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that skills and challenges vary with each individual.

People with autism may also have splinter skills, with exceptional strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. Stephen Wiltshire is an artist who can draw New York City from memory. Derek Paravicini is a musician with autism who can play music after hearing it once.

There any many famous people who are known to have autism or historical figures who are believed to have had autism. In many cases, their unique skills enabled them to invent or create in ways that resulted in their great contributions and fame. Some of those people include Dan Aykroyd, comedian; Daryl Hannah, actress; Jerry Seinfeld, comedian; Elon Musk, inventor; Albert Einstein, scientist and mathemetician; Leonardo DaVinci, artist and scientist; Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft; Emily Dickinson, poet; Michelangelo, artist; Charles Darwin, scientist; Anthony Hopkins, actor; Bobby Fischer,
chess master; and Henry Cavendish, scientist. What would our world be like without the contributions of these people with autism?

What Do Autistic Adults Have to Say?

Consider books written by adults with autism, including Different…Not Less, by Temple Grandin, Ph.D. and We’re Not Broken, Changing the Autism Conversation, by Eric Garcia. The titles alone are enough to convey their opinions about autism acceptance.

When Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism in 1947, doctors told her parents she should be institutionalized. However, due to her mother’s encouragement and Temple’s determination, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in Animal Science and become a college professor. Dr. Grandin wrote many books and was also the subject of the HBO movie, “Temple Grandin”.

In her writing, Dr. Grandin acknowledges that autism is a spectrum disorder and that people with autism can range from very intelligent people who are a bit quirky, to people who cannot speak and need more substantial support. She has also been open and transparent about her own needs for support in certain areas. Dr. Grandin is a frequent speaker to parents and people with autism and emphasizes getting children with autism off of electronics, teaching them practical skills, finding their strengths and interests, and exploring futures that follow those interests.

Community Inclusion and Support

Consistent with Temple Grandin’s advice, we need to give people with autism the opportunity to find their unique skills and interests. Each person with autism needs to be recognized as an individual, with their strengths and challenges, and allowed to reach their potential. This means acceptance and inclusion in schools, workplaces, and communities. This also means providing them and their families with whatever support may be needed to help them live full lives.

Instead of focusing on autism one month each year let’s focus on it every month. Let’s make every month Autism Acceptance Month.

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