You’ve probably heard of Autism Awareness Month, which has been celebrated every April since the Autism Society of America (ASA) first observed it in 1970. But did you know the organization made the shift to Autism Acceptance Month in 2021?
Facts About Autism
Once referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder, autism is a developmental condition that affects a person’s social skills, communication, self-regulation and relationships. Autism impacts each person differently and to different degrees. For example, some people with autism are sensitive to light and noises. Others have trouble making eye contact or have repetitive behaviors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 75 million – or 1% of the world’s population – have autism.
Currently, no one knows what causes autism, but it is helpful for individuals to receive a diagnosis to help them live life fully. ASA says a psychologist, developmental pediatrician or other specialized physicians can make a medical diagnosis by assessing symptoms and performing diagnostic tests. From there, parents and the individual can receive help from their school or the state and can participate in things such as speech therapy, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy and more. These tools can help set people with autism up for success in school, at work and in life.
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Autism Acceptance Month
As mentioned, ASA shifted Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month in 2021. The occasion has always served as a way to empower people with autism and their families. The organization said it changed the name to offer more support and opportunities in education, employment, accessible housing, affordable healthcare and comprehensive long-term services to people with autism.
“While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life,” Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America, said in a statement. “As many individuals and families affected by autism know, acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.”
ASA isn’t the first to refer to April as Autism Acceptance Month. The Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) has called it this since 2011 and has said that “acceptance of autism as a natural condition in the human experience is necessary for real dialogue to occur.”
Other organizations using “acceptance” rather than “awareness” include:
- The Administration for Community Living
- Association of University Centers on Disabilities
- Autistic Women and Non-Binary Network
- Easter Seals
- First Place AZ
- National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD)
- The Arc
ASA is working to have the federal government officially recognize April as Autism Acceptance Month. This coincides with the #CelebrateDifferences campaign ASA launched with the name change last year, which also calls on people with autism to “live full, quality lives through connection and acceptance.”
According to ASA, communities can celebrate differences by educating first responders on autism as 1-in-5 young adults with autism have an interaction with the police before the age of 21 and are more likely to be incarcerated than people without disabilities.
It’s also important to work with businesses to advocate for the employment of people with autism as a large number of adults with autism who have a college degree are unemployed or underemployed.
“Given the current labor shortage, employers could benefit from expanding their pool of applicants through inclusive hiring practices,” ASA says. “Autistic and neurodiverse individuals bring significant skills that can be harnessed when supported through inclusion and accommodations as needed.”