April is right around the corner and it is Autism “Awareness” Month, which I prefer to call Autism Acceptance Month. A singular word choice doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it makes a huge difference. Society is quite aware that autism exists. Just because people know that Autism is a thing, does not mean they really get it or accept the presence of autists in society. Acceptance and awareness are two very different things. Acceptance is what we should be promoting this April, not merely awareness.
E is autistic. Her doctor asked me again during our last health check how I feel about it. After hearing this well meaning but ridiculous question for the hundredth time, I informed her that “it really isn’t a big deal as I am also autistic.” For some reason she was shocked by this tidbit and went on to tell me the importance of not divulging such medical information to just anyone. Clearly she doesn’t understand autism as well as I had hoped.
Autism is measured on a spectrum. Some traits will be at different ranges of said spectrum than others. Additionally females are greatly underdiagnosed as most diagnostic criteria is tailored to males. I present as rather neurotypical with some quirks. Society doesn’t see me as autistic. I am not a savant, I am not developmentally delayed, I excelled academically, and I am perfectly capable of making eye contact and socializing. I’m very good at making myself look like I fit in, a trait common to autistic females, yet at the same time I never really fit. After my diagnosis, it was a bit of a relief to finally have an explanation as to why meeting social expectations was so taxing. The understanding it brought me has allowed me to relax in social settings and embrace my less sociable habits. Not everyone I encounter accepts this.
Sure they are aware that autism exists and expect everyone to be like this one autistic they saw in the media or in a movie. They don’t really understand the breadth of the neurodivergence. Nor do they accept autism’s prominence in society. If you don’t fit each check box, then you don’t count as autistic and you should make yourself act like a normal person. We need acceptance of our existence and acceptance of our variances. Acceptance, not awareness.