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How to Support Autism Awareness Month

How to Support Autism Awareness Month

April is here, and so is Autism Awareness Month.

But did you know many autistic individuals dread April and its message of awareness?

Search the hashtag #ActuallyAutistic on social media, and you will discover the sad history behind their trauma.

So, weā€™re going to explore how to support Autism Awareness Month in a way that gives the autistic community the respect they deserve.

Autistic Voices FirstĀ 

The first and most important step is to seek the knowledge and experience of autistic individuals. We have sadly come from a history whereĀ neurotypical people are defining autism and outlining what supports should be provided. Unfortunately, failing to listen to the lived experience of autistic individuals has resulted in the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes and misinformation.

The term ā€œnothing about us, without us,ā€ has been embraced by autistic self-advocacy organizations in an effort to highlight that decisions about autism policies and advocacy need to be made by or with autistic people.

So, if you are wondering how to support autism awareness monthā€”look to the autistic community. Listen to their perspectives. Learn from their experiences. Through education, we canĀ take action to provide meaningful support. The autistic community online has never been stronger and is committed to sharing lived experiences, providing guidance and unraveling misconceptions for anyone who is interested.

Language MattersĀ 

Language is a powerful tool for shaping how we think and talk about autism. But unfortunately, many common phrases and labels can be stigmatizing or inaccurate.

Here are some tips for using vocabulary that respects the diversity and complexity of the autism spectrum.

Identity First LanguageĀ 

Many autistic individuals prefer identity first language. Rather than saying ā€œperson with autism,ā€ which suggests that autism is a separate and negative aspect of an individualā€™s identity, they may prefer ā€œautistic personā€ to affirm that autism is an integral part of who they are.

Autistic podcaster Matt Haberer states, ā€œItā€™s not something that I carry around in a bag with me. Itā€™s something that makes me who I am and is an intrinsic part of my beingā€.

However, as always, respect autistic identitiesā€”when communicating with an autistic individual, ask them their preference and respect their wishes.

Drop the LabelsĀ 

Labels like ā€œlow functioningā€ and ā€œhigh functioningā€ can be misleading and limit our understanding of the wide range of abilities and challenges that autistic individuals may experience.

People often mistakenly view the autism spectrum as linear and representative of severity. In reality, the autism spectrum is more spherical, and individuals will have strengths and weaknesses in different areas or need more or less support.

Furthermore, autistic traits can vary depending on the environment or circumstance. For example, a young girl may have excellent communication skills at home with her family, but when at school, the sensory overload may significantly impair her abilities.

Avoid Pathological FramingĀ 

The traditional medical model views neurodevelopmental conditions like autism and ADHD as pathologies within the individual. But the social model of disability, in line with the neurodiversity movement, frames autism through the lens of cognitive diversity rather than deficit.

Many awareness campaigns in days gone by have focused on finding a cure or overcoming deficits to become ā€œnormal.ā€ This type of language can be deeply offensive to the autistic community, reinforce harmful stereotypes, and reduce individuals to deficits and problems.

This quote from a young autistic individual sums it up perfectly.

ā€œIā€™m beautiful, not broken.

Different, not less.

Challenged, not challenging.

Autism is not a choice.

However, acceptance is.ā€

Symbolisms of InclusionĀ 

While you might think displaying a symbolic logo like the iconic puzzle piece supports autism awareness, the reality is that many autistic individuals find the puzzle narrative offensive. The puzzle piece was first used as a symbol for autism in 1963 and stemmed from the idea that autism was a puzzling condition that needed to be solved.

If you want to show your support through symbolism, considerĀ neurodiversity-inclusive imagery like the infinity logo.

As autistic advocate Yenn Purkis explains, ā€œAutistic people are not puzzles to be solved. We do not have any missing pieces. We are perfectly valid and whole as we are.ā€

Authentic AllyshipĀ 

Being an ally to autistic individuals means more than just using inclusive language and symbols. It requires a commitment to ongoing education, self-reflection, and action.

Here are some ways to practice authentic allyship:

  • Follow and engage with autistic individuals on social media
  • Challenge your own biases around disability
  • Support autistic-led organizations
  • Advocate for policy changes in the workplace or school
  • Think about accommodations that increase accessibility

Shifting From Awareness to AcceptanceĀ 

If youā€™re looking at how to support Autism Awareness Month, start by shifting your perspective from awareness to acceptance.

In the words of a 14-year-old autistic boy, ā€œAwareness means you know Iā€™m here. Acceptance means youā€™re happy to see me.ā€

True inclusion and acceptance require more than just awareness. Thatā€™s why the team at Smunchies Co is passionate about providing sensory tools that encourage and facilitate inclusion and acceptance for growing kids, teens & adults.

The delightfully squishable and squeezable Smunchies Scrunchies combine fashion and sensory relief so you can show up in the world as the amazing, unique being you are!

Weā€™re proud to support autism awareness &Ā acceptance, not only in April but all year round.

Ā 

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