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Autism Acceptance or Awareness? Why Shifting Our Language is Important

April 13, 2022


Every year when April rolls around, Autism Awareness becomes a hot topic of discussion. With April 2nd designated as World Autism Awareness Day, it has brought about the much-needed awareness that autism has deserved. 


But is AWARENESS enough?


Many autism advocacy groups within the autism community are calling out for a reform or a shift in thinking. Instead of using the term awareness, the community is encouraging and even recommending the word, ACCEPTANCE.



Why Acceptance in Place of Awareness?


Awareness is not a bad thing. It’s important to bring awareness to a subject, especially to those who have no understanding whatsoever. And thanks to campaigns such as World Autism Awareness Day, it has shined the light on autism for millions. 


But awareness doesn’t equal acceptance, and many in the autism community aim to fix that. 


In 2011, The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) moved away from awareness and started calling April Autism Acceptance Month. Their reasoning behind the shift can be summed up in a single quote:


Acceptance of autism as a natural condition in the human experience is necessary for real dialogue to occur.


Bringing awareness hasn’t solved any inclusion issues those with autism face today. A large percentage of the autistic population are under-employed, suffer from depression, and live in poverty. In order to improve the daily lives of those with autism, inclusivity of those on the autism spectrum needs to be more widely accepted.  


Which brings us full circle – acceptance vs awareness.



Missing a Piece of the Puzzle


With this current shift of thinking comes another debate within the autism community – the symbol of the puzzle piece. For decades, the puzzle piece has been one of the most commonly recognized symbols representing autism. But in recent years, the puzzle piece has sparked negative connotations with autism.


Many see the puzzle piece as infantilizing autism – giving the illusion that it only affects young children while disregarding and excluding autistic adults from the conversation. The puzzle piece also suggests that autism is puzzling or a mystery. Again, an unfavorable connotation, insinuating that something is missing or incomplete. It reinforces the misleading idea that those with autism are incomplete and need fixing. 


Replacing the puzzle piece as a symbol of autism and recognizing the inconsistency in its messaging is another shift in thinking happening within the community. 


The Shift in Thinking


This shift in thinking shows a continued desire for those on the autism spectrum to be fully accepted into society and eradicate discrimination. Substituting a few simple words and symbols can have a huge impact that transforms perspectives and encourages change. 


What do you think? Where do you stand on acceptance vs awareness?


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