Today is, depending on who you ask, World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Acceptance Day or Autistic Awesomeness Day. I forgot to plan to write anything but I feel that I ought to.
So. I am autistic and I am pretty awesome.
I am autistic and all my friends accept me for who I am.
Both these things were true long before my friends became aware that I am autistic.
Understanding the whats and hows and whys of autism or even being all that sure what autism is, isn’t necessary to accept autistic people. If it was, then all of us autistic people would still be sitting around waiting to be accepted because even the scientists who study autism for a living aren’t all that sure what autism is or why some people are autistic and others aren’t or how many autistic people there are or… you get the idea.
You don’t need to be “aware” of autism or to “understand” autism to be able to see that some people have struggles and difficulties and also skills and abilities that you don’t have. You don’t need to know all the ways someone can be different from another person to accept that all people are different from each other and that’s okay. You don’t need to know why someone is behaving in a way you don’t behave to trust that there is a reason for their behaviour that probably makes sense to them. You don’t need a computer simulation of how I see and hear to believe me when I saw I see and hear very differently from how you seem to.
What do you need to accept autism if not ever more “awareness”? You need an open mind and an open heart. You need to trust people are most likely telling the truth when talking about their own experiences. You need to listen carefully to what autistic people say about our lives – not just when we phrase that in terms of “symptoms” or “behaviours”. You need to listen to yourself and others speaking so you can catch it when people accidentally say something that suggests that autistic people (or any group of people) are less than fully and beautifully human (for example suggesting that we are, as a whole group, stupid, soulless, emotionless or unfeeling). You need to treat every person you meet both in real life and online with respect and dignity because they are a thinking feeling person. You need to expect difference and diversity – maybe even learn to love it.
That’s why for me this is acceptance day, not awareness. You don’t need to know more than that I am a human being with my own life – you can accept me. You don’t need to understand why I am the way I am – you just need to accept that this is me.
I am autistic and I am loved and respected and accepted by people who’ve never even heard of the “triad of impairments” and don’t need to know much about autism at all to know that I am a person who behaves a bit differently from most but that’s just who I am.