April is Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month
April 2nd is the 15th annual World Autism Awareness Day, as designated by the United Nations. This year’s United Nations theme is “Inclusive Quality Education for All,” to recognize the fact that school closures due to COVID hit students with autism especially hard.
The UN, which officially declared April 2nd World Autism Awareness Day in 2008, is hosting a virtual event on April 8th on the topic of inclusive education.
And the entire month of April is promoted by many organizations as a month devoted to those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). According to Autism Speaks, it’s World Autism Month. The Autism Society of America calls April Autism Acceptance Month. Still, the most often seen label is “Autism Awareness Month.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), autism spectrum disorder affects 1 in 44 children. It impacts individuals and families. As the Autism Society of America puts it, “Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that affects essential human behaviors such as social interaction, the ability to communicate ideas and feelings, imagination, self-regulation, and the ability to establish relationships with others.”
Why Is April 2nd World Autism Awareness Day?
The United Nations General Assembly declared April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day in 2008 “to highlight the need to improve the quality of life of those with autism so they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society.” The stated intent is to reduce worldwide discrimination against people with neurological differences and remove obstacles to diagnosis and therapies. By the way, the UN only has seven officially designated health-related days.
Long before the UN’s declaration, the Autism Society of America worked to have autism awareness officially recognized every year. In the 1970s, the Autism Society began a nationwide campaign to raise autism awareness. In 1972, it launched the first National Autistic Children’s week, which has evolved into April’s Autism Awareness Month. However, the organization prefers Autism Acceptance Month.
In 2021, the Autism Society of America began a campaign to local, state and federal leaders to officially name April “Autism Acceptance Month.” They have special initiatives as part of their “#CelebrateDifferences” campaign.
Other than the UN’s declaration for World Autism Awareness Day, there has never been an official designation for the month by government entities.
Writing about his organization’s 2022 campaign and the need for equitable access to resources, Christopher Banks, president and CEO of the Autism Society, said, “No matter who you are, where you live, or your abilities, you should be able to have the connection to supports, services, community and resources needed to live fully.”
DOWNLOAD our free infographic to learn more about Autism Acceptance vs. Autism Awareness.
Autism Acceptance Month
Autism Acceptance Month has been used by other organizations informally for some time. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) has called April Autism Acceptance Month since 2011, saying, “Acceptance of autism as a natural condition in the human experience is necessary for real dialogue to occur.”
Other groups preferring the term “autism acceptance” to mark the month of April 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), and The Arc.
Autism Speaks, the largest autism advocacy group in the U.S., has long been a proponent of April as a month focused on spreading information about autism. Rather than “awareness month,” the organization has transitioned to what it calls World Autism Month.
The group’s stated purpose for the month: “Throughout the month, we focus on sharing stories and providing opportunities to increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism, fostering worldwide support. This year, we are committed to keeping the spirit of the month alive, as now more than ever, we know the autism community needs support, kindness and compassion.”
Perspectives on Autism Awareness Month
Other groups are also promoting April as World Autism Month, like the American Autism Association with their hashtag #myautism. Their site focuses on not just raising awareness but on how people can take action. As they put it, “There is power in passion and one small act to better the autism community can have a ripple effect to foster a positive impact in our communities. We believe that by empowering others, we can help individuals with autism reach their full potential.
In addition to raising money themselves, the American Autism Association site has tips for family members on creating a Facebook fundraiser as well as sharing photos and stories on social media.
Not everyone is happy about Autism Awareness Month. Many autism self-advocates publicly criticize the movement and are fighting for change toward more emphasis on acceptance rather than awareness. In a Forbes Magazine article, autism advocate Nancy Doyle wrote:
“A large part of the problem is that awareness has not proven effective at improving the lives of Autistic people. In fact, these awareness drives often lead to the widespread dissemination of misinformation and outdated perspectives, causing further difficulties for people in the community.”
In a Washington Post article, Age of Autism author Kim Stagliano suggests donating to local autism organizations that provide real help to families or volunteering to be an “autism buddy” is more important than wearing blue or holding an event. She also has practical advice for everyone:
“If your child has a classmate on the spectrum, invite that classmate to your child’s next birthday party. You know that cashier at the grocery store who doesn’t look at you as she takes care of your order? Smile at her, even if she does not smile back. The best way we can support Autism Awareness Month is to turn it into Autism Action Month. People with autism deserve a bright – not just a blue – future.”
But then there is the perspective of James Guttman, writing about his autistic son on the Autism Speaks blog site:
“I’m never offended by the concept of autism awareness. For many, outside my home, it’s the first time that someone really speaks to them openly about what autism is. When they do, those people have a chance to learn about people like my son and understand that he’s not all that different from them. When we increase their understanding of what autism is, it leads to their acceptance of people like him. Why? Because Lucas is an amazing human being, if I do say so myself. Once you understand who he is, you have no choice but to accept and love him.”
The United Nations on World Autism Awareness Day
Turning back to the United Nations and its worldwide advocacy efforts, in his 2022 message regarding World Autism Awareness Day, UN leader Secretary-General António Guterres said:
“We need to ensure that the rights, perspectives and well-being of persons with disabilities, including those with autism, are an integral part of building forward better from the pandemic.”
Whether you’re in favor of calling April Autism Awareness or Autism Acceptance or World Autism Month, the fact that there is such lively debate across so many levels of our society suggests autism is receiving attention, awareness, and, more often, acceptance.