April, the Month for Autism Acceptance and Celebration

Sevilla Tovar, News Editor

   April, the first full month of spring, is famous for many reasons, like pranks and the showers that bring May flowers. The fourth month of the year is also a nationally recognized month promoting the awareness of a syndrome affecting over 75 million people worldwide. Autism Acceptance Month is a time to acknowledge because it represents and supports a hugely marginalized group, one that still faces many problems that can be alleviated through education.

   According to a website about national holidays, “National Autism Awareness Month raises awareness for autism syndrome during April. Autism is a complex brain disorder that often inhibits a person’s ability to communicate, respond to surroundings, and form relationships with others” (nationaldaycalender.com). 

   Autism isn’t a specific set of symptoms and obstacles; the term “spectrum” is frequently used in reference to the disorder because of how wide of a variety of functioning levels people with the diagnosis have. According to National Today, “The Autism Society was founded in 1965 by Bernard Rimland and remains one of the few grassroots organizations in the autistic community” (nationaltoday.com). 

   The Autism Society hosted its first awareness campaign in 1972 called the National Autistic Children’s Week, which turned into Autism Awareness Month. National Today continued, “In 2021, Autism Awareness Month was renamed Autism Acceptance Month to foster acceptance and ignite change” (nationaltoday.com). The new name describes autism positively, and makes April as a time to celebrate the neurodiverse, rather than think of it as a disease to feel sympathy about. The change of name hasn’t been completely accepted, though, as many sources still refer to April as National Autism Awareness Month.

   One goal of Autism Acceptance Month is to spread the stories and opinions of autistic people, which is clearly needed given the gaps of communication that still exist between the autistic community and the neurotypical public. One example of this is through the (commonly, but not always used) symbol of a puzzle piece. It has often been used to represent the community, which many autistic adults find offensive. Through a discussion outlet, The Mighty, Mr. Richard Coffey explains, “The first issue with the puzzle piece and the puzzle ribbon is that it infantilizes autism. Puzzles, by and large, are games designed for children, and the puzzle piece helps create the perception that autism is solely a childhood condition and doesn’t affect adults” (themighty.com). 

   Because of this, many neurotypical people have thought of autism as a debilitating condition, and don’t give perfectly-capable autistic adults the respect they deserve. Coffey continued, “The second major issue with the puzzle piece is what it insinuates. A puzzle piece is part of something unfinished. A puzzle piece by itself inherently means that the puzzle is incomplete.” Because there is a wide variety of functioning levels on the spectrum, the puzzle piece is offensive to many people (themighty.com).

   Supporting the community and educating about the complexity of autism helps to relieve old stereotypes about the condition. Circle of Friends Co-president Sophomore Allison Turley said, “Just like other months that recognize various communities, Autism Acceptance Month is about spreading awareness and understanding toward people on the spectrum. This month positively affects many, it can help students on the spectrum feel more seen. It also educates neurotypical students and staff, which helps break down stereotypes faced by students on the spectrum.” 

   Harmful preconceptions have been plaguing autistic people for years, especially around seeking help managing the side effects of the condition. Associate Professor Jennifer Singh from the Georgia Institute of Technology said, “Racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are evident across many service domains including access to early assessment, diagnosis, and therapeutic interventions” (journals.sagepub.com). 

   Although autism is a condition, it isn’t a limiting factor to someone’s worth. For years, neurotypical people have viewed autistic people as incapable and treated them likewise. From unintentionally belittling remarks, to misinformation about the condition, the autistic community has been marginalized throughout history, and this month is a month for acceptance.