A major theme of this book is that just about everything concerning autism is subject to argument. There is not even any consensus on what one should call people who have autism and other disabilities. “In the autism community, many self-advocates and their allies prefer terms such as `Autistic,’ `Autistic person,’ or `Autistic individual’ because we understand autism as an inherent part of an individual’s identity,” writes blogger Lydia Brown.[i] Other writers prefer “people-first” language (e.g., “persons with autism”) since it puts the persons ahead of the disability and describes what they have, not who they are.[ii] For the sake of stylistic variety, this book uses both kinds of language, even though this approach will satisfy neither side. I can only say that I mean no offense.
Such debates may seem minor at first, but they are often proxies for deeper disagreements.
Today, the Autism Society of America, along with leading disability organizations across the country, is announcing that it is formally shifting references of “Autism Awareness Month” to “Autism Acceptance Month” and is calling on the media to reflect this in their ongoing coverage.
April has widely been known as “Autism Awareness Month” in the United States as a way to empower autistic individuals and their families. Today, the autism community is calling on all media outlets to shift their language to match the growing need for acceptance within the community in preparation for any news coverage in the weeks ahead.
The shift in the use of terminology aims to foster acceptance to ignite change through improved support and opportunities in education, employment, accessible housing, affordable health care and comprehensive long-term services.
“While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life,” says Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America. “As many individuals and families affected by autism know, acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.”
Autism community advocates across the country have a long-standing history of using the term “acceptance” as a means of more fully integrating those 1 in every 54 Americans living with autism into our social fabric. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) has been framing April as Autism Acceptance Month since 2011, stating “Acceptance of autism as a natural condition in the human experience is necessary for real dialogue to occur.”
Other groups that have been using ‘acceptance’ through the month of April include the Administration for Community Living, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Autistic Women and Non-Binary Network, Easter Seals, First Place AZ, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), and The Arc.
There has never been a formal designation for the month, regardless of terminology. Therefore, as part of this shift, the Autism Society of America is leading a significant effort for the federal government to officially designate April as “Autism Acceptance Month.”
This will coincide with their campaign to #CelebrateDifferences, which encourages individuals with autism and their families to live full, quality lives through connection and acceptance. More on the campaign will be released in the coming weeks.