Why have a month for autism awareness? Look at the numbers — in 2014, the CDC suggests that 1.7% of the US population is on the autism spectrum, which is 1 in 59. The percentage is similar in other countries as well, and only 31% have co-existing intellectual disability.
Many people you would not suspect to be on the autism spectrum actually are, and they experience social stress, anxiety, and sensory challenges. They might seem sort of different or quirky, but also often talented and knowledgeable in areas of interest. Dan Ackroyd, who has Asperger’s (now referred to as Autism Level 1), took his interests and turned them into the movie, Ghostbusters.
Why call it autism acceptance?
There are different ways of processing the world, which is called neurodiversity. The medical model of autism focuses only on disability. The neurodiversity model recognizes whole people with strengths as well as challenges who process experience differently. In accepting that there are different ways of taking in experiences and expressing ourselves, we accept neurodiversity. Our brains can work differently; we’re still valuable people making our way in the world.
The disability model focuses on what people on the autism spectrum (neurodivergent) don’t do “normally,” like social relatedness. While it has its challenges, many with autism are proud to be neurodivergent and the popular phrase is “No two people with autism are alike.” People can mistakenly assume those on the spectrum are aloof, lack feelings, and are uninterested in others; it follows that the abilities of neurodivergent people are misunderstood. In fact, people on the spectrum have intense feelings, empathy, and often want relationships, although they express this differently. They value truth and integrity, have high standards, and in being detail focused, they often have insights or perceptions that others miss.
The people who fit the “normal” model of processing (neurotypicals) and those who are neurodivergent both have much to say, but they say it in different ways. There can be misunderstanding and “mind blindness” on both sides. We need to understand each other.
What better way is there to understand the experience and perspective of those on the autism spectrum than to read it in their own authentic voices? Terra Vance, a gifted autistic writer, has a blog on Psych Central – “Unapologetically Aspie.” In this thought-provoking piece she writes about the emotions of those with Asperger’s.
Other neurodivergent bloggers I suggest are:
- Midwestern Aspie on listening and friendship
- A 20-year-old sharing her ideas about what NOT to say to Aspies
- A teen shares his point of view on Autism Awareness Month.
- A father with Asperger’s writes advice for children on the spectrum.
- An autistic advocate with high support needs talks about dignity, safety and respect.
Autistic writers can also give moving insight into understanding what it’s like being part of those who are neurodiverse. I strongly recommend the explorations of the experience and meaning of getting a diagnosis in these two blog posts: Searching for Identity in a Neurotypical World and A Life Illuminated.
So, let’s celebrate Autism Awareness Month with awareness, acceptance and curiosity about neurodiversity. Let’s improve the communication between neurodivergents and neurotypicals. Let’s address misperceptions, which I try to do in my blog, but importantly, by going directly to the experiences of neurodivergent people themselves.
And let’s call this “Autism Acceptance Month.”