April is coming up and that means a lot more attention on autism, since April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. I was thinking about the difference between awareness and acceptance and decided to share an example of why we need acceptance. Warning: This post will include mentioning of harm and ABA.
If you are a parent to an autistic kid, try treating your autistic kid with basic respect and tell people about it. Simple things like don’t put your autistic kid(s) through sensory hell, help them communicate by giving them access to AAC, assume competence, protect them from harm and that sort of stuff. Nothing fancy, just basic parenting. Then, wait for the reactions. For me, doing this leads to two kinds of reactions:
1) Some people call me a horrible parent, because how will my kid ever have a chance to learn to appear more “normal” when I don’t engage in interventions with that aim?
2) Some people think it’s great and that I’m a great parent.
Reaction number one is awful for a number of reasons, the main one being that it shows how so many people think that interventions aiming at trying to make your kid appear less autistic is an acceptable and reasonable thing to do. That’s horrible because it means that a lot of kids are being put through ABA and similar interventions that have harmed so many autistic people. Reaction number two is quite nice, because it means that there are people who think that autistic children should be brought up with respect and basic protection from parents and other adults. However, no matter how happy reaction number two makes me, something is very troublesome with both these reactions – the fact that there is a total lack of a third kind of reaction:
3) So you’re a parent who commits to basic parenting. What’s special about that?
I’m thinking about this because I’m thinking about how to deal with April and all the Autism Awareness, because I think this is a great example of why we need Autism Acceptance and Appreciation, not Awareness. Ponder this:
It’s controversial to treat you autistic kid with respect.
It’s controversial to protect your autistic kid from harm and teach them that they are fine, just like they are.
It’s controversial to point out their humanity.
I can’t see how Autism Awareness ever will be a solution to this. People are aware that autism exists, but it isn’t stopping anybody from thinking that parenting autistic kids should be about harming them with normalizing interventions. Autism Awareness is obviously not preventing schools from denying kids an education and punishing them for being autistic either. Being aware of that autism exists doesn’t seem to be doing much for autistic people.
However, Autism Acceptance has a much better chance of focusing on accepting autistic people, just as we are. Autism Appreciation has a chance to give us the right to feel good about ourselves, as the autistic people we are. With more acceptance and appreciation, maybe one day it won’t be controversial to be respectful to autistic people of all ages anymore.