By Silvia Steele
The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) has called April “Autism Acceptance Month” since 2011, stating, “Acceptance of autism as a natural condition in the human experience is necessary for real dialogue to occur.” Autism acceptance highlights autism as a unique part of who an individual is, not something to be treated or fixed.
Acceptance emphasizes the importance of society valuing individual differences and not expecting people to change, to fit into a world designed for the non-disabled. Increasingly autistic adults are taking the lead in advocacy, with the motto “Nothing about us, without us.” This changes the conversation, and the goal is for autistic voices to take the lead in shaping policy and change.
What is autism? According to the National Institutes of Health, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disability that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. Pediatricians screen for autism and children can be diagnosed as early as age two. However, many children are not diagnosed until they are much older, and more adults are being diagnosed now more than ever. Autism is considered a developmental disability, meaning people are born autistic and will be throughout their lives. Testing and a diagnosis of ASD will help determine a person’s areas of need, and this varies for each person. One person is not “more autistic” than another, but a person who is non-verbal will have more communication needs than someone who can speak. They will need alternative ways to communicate and accommodations to do so. Autism can look much different in children than it does in adults. For some, autism is an invisible disability. This means they may not show outward “visible” signs or behaviors that we perceive as autistic. This does not make them “less autistic.” Autism falls on a spectrum and is different for every individual.
Is it more respectful to say, “autistic person” or “person with autism”? This is commonly referred to as “identity-first” (identifying disability first) versus “person-first” (identifying the person before the disability) language. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that identity-first language is preferred by autistic adults when referring to themselves and others. Many self-advocates emphasize that being autistic is a part of who they are similar to the deaf community, where identity-first language has been used for years. Person-first language is more likely to be used by professionals in the autism community. It is also used when speaking about intellectual disabilities, as a way to separate the individual from the disability. We must continue to respect each person’s individual opinions as well as their right to make choices and decisions for themselves. Regardless of what you hear or read about disabilities, the individual is the authority, and their wishes need to be respected.
Below are some terrific resources I used for this article. This month, take some time to read about autism, disability advocacy and how to be an advocate for more inclusivity in your own community.
Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is a nonprofit organization run by and for autistic people. The links below are from ASAN:
Digital book called Welcome to the Autistic Community, provides a detailed an easy to read guide for families and individuals.
National Institutes of Health
The International Council on Development and Learning (ICDL)- provides training courses for parents and professionals through the Floor Time Training program based on the research of Dr. Stanley Greenspan.