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Autism Month: Awareness to Acceptance

April 2, 2012 | Caroline Miller

Today is the start of the fifth annual Autism Awareness Month, packed with events and publicity about autism. But for some activists who've been on the front lines for some time, the frontier has moved beyond "awareness" to "acceptance." In fact there's an alternate Autism Acceptance Month movement.

Steve Silverman, a Wired reporter who has a blog called NeuroTribes, explains the shift from "awareness" to "acceptance" this way: "The lion's share of the money raised by star-studded "awareness" campaigns goes into researching potential genetic and environmental risk factors—not to improving the quality of life for the millions of autistic adults who are already here, struggling to get by."

Noting the recent CDC report that one in 88 children in a sample of 8-year-olds were found to have autism spectrum disorder, he writes, "When kids on the spectrum graduate from high school, they and their families are often cut adrift—left to fend for themselves in the face of dwindling social services and even less than the meager level of accommodations available to those with other disabilities."

For other passionate explanations of why advocates think it's important to "take back" April, check out a site called Autism Acceptance Day. Paula Durbin-Wesby, an autistic adult, explains what it means to her this way: "Acceptance means accepting yourself as you are, even in the face of persistent attempts throughout your life to get you to be what you are not. Especially in the face of persistent attempts throughout your life to get you to be what you are not."

In her essay she hints at something that is becoming a movement in itself, to see neurodiversity as a civil rights issue.

You have the right, or should, to grow in ways that are good for you, that you think are good for you. You have the right to make changes in your life that you think are the correct ones for you. If stimming helps you get through the day, you have the right to do it. If making eye contact is a goal of yours, go for it! You get to choose. When others choose for you (in the case of children or in some support roles) let it be not in the vain attempt to "normalize" you, but to help you be your best, Autistic, self.

We'll be hearing a lot more about this in the days and weeks ahead, and we'll feature here some of the excellent pieces that are on offer as the month progresses.

For starters, check out the piece by Beth Arky on childmind.org about parents of autistic children struggling to find, or invent, independent but supported living situations for their children "aging out" of educational services. With an estimated 200,000 coming of age in the next 5 years, we see it as the next big frontier in autism.

With this in mind, Thinking Person's Guide to Autism today posted the first of a series of "Slice of Life" conversations with "autistics of all ages" that will be running all month. First up is Aisling Alley, a budding anime creator and Nintendo fan. "We'd like to help our non-autistic readers get to know autistics as people who have interesting, complicated lives," writes Shannon Des Roches Rosa, "and who are as diverse and varied as any other random population united by a label."

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