Wednesday, April 4, 2018

What is Autism Acceptance?: The “You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means” Edition

I have talked before about the differences between “autism awareness” and “autism acceptance” but I will give you the (somewhat) shorter version real quick:

“Awareness” is lazy.  It requires no action.  It is rooted in ableism and done for non autistic people at our expense.  “Awareness” is self narrating zoo exhibits and violations of privacy and dignity.  “Awareness” is never and has never been for autistic people. “Autism Awareness” hurts.  

In 2011, autistic writer and advocate Paula Durbin Westby started Autism Acceptance Day and Month as a direct response to the harm that was caused by “awareness” initiatives.  Autism Acceptance Day and Month is a celebration of autistic people and autistic culture. It also speaks about ways to create a better world for all autistic people. It is about taking action to change the conversation about autism in our homes and communities.

And in the last few years, I have noticed that more and more people are using the word “acceptance” while still rehashing the same tired, ableist and offensive “awareness”.  Like so many allistics before, they are capitalizing on the ideas of autistic people and changing it to suit their needs. And calling your shitty thing something that isn’t shitty but still actively being shitty is not autism acceptance.  

Here’s the thing, I can call myself a tall person but that doesn’t stop making me be 5’2.   

And words mean things.  

You cannot call yourself an advocate for autism acceptance while speaking over and for autistic people.  If you use “acceptance” while promoting things that harm us such as ABA and other compliance based therapies, posting humiliating and private information about an autistic child or adult without their consent, while using functioning labels and having zero understanding of  or even willingness to learn about the neurodiversity paradigm, then you are not actually advocating acceptance. You are making as much sense as 5’2 me trying to convince you that I am very tall. And you’re still hurting us.

There are many, many misconceptions about what autism acceptance means and who it is for.   And part of that is because of people using words that actually don’t mean what they say.

Acceptance is:

  • Listening to and making autistic voices a priority in any conversation about autism
  • Not insisting that those voices use spoken language
  • Listening to autistic people even when it challenges what you think you know about autism
  • Knowing that functioning labels are useless, ableist and harmful & refusing to use them
  • Understanding that autistic kids grow up and become autistic adults and we don’t stop being autistic and needing support and accommodations
  • Presuming competence
  • Not making assumptions about the challenges and abilities of an autistic adult because they don’t act exactly like a five year old autistic child you know.
  • Advocating for  inclusion in schools, communities, places of employment and beyond
  • Respecting the privacy and dignity of autistic people, including autistic children
  • Amplifying autistic voices, taking a back seat and passing the mic
  • Knowing that being proud of who we are and celebrating autistic people and autistic culture is not the same as ignoring our disabilities and challenges.  It is in fact vital to challenging injustices
  • Recognizing ableism in all it's forms and then confronting it
  • Take all of this, learn from it and use your voice to challenge others and to fight for change

If you are not doing these things, then you are not practicing autism acceptance.

Because acceptance is not passive.  

If you say that you are advocating for acceptance, then you need you to show up and do the work. Create a safer and more inclusive world for all of us. Advocate for our rights. Treat us with respect and dignity.  Do not tokenize or use us to further your agenda. Work with us instead of against us. We need more people who actually want to do the work and if you’re not ready to show up, then stop pretending that you are.  

image is two cartoon narhwals on a dark teal background. 
The top left is a green narwhal with a frowning face. 
The bottom right is a purple narwhal with a happy face. 

Text next to the frowning face narwhal reads: 

"Autism acceptance is NOT: 

no help or support

only for some autistic people but not for others
ABA/Compliance based therapies
using functioning labels
just something that you say"

Text next to the happy face narwhal reads: 

"Autism acceptance IS:

recognizing that autism and disability are part of human diversity

understanding that autistic ways of being are okay
finding supports and accommodations that help me be the best autistic person I can be 
working with me instead of trying to "fix" me
celebrating and being proud of who we are as autistic people
something that you do