July 14, 2024

The importance of Autism Acceptance Month

A collection of autism-affirming novels and related books are held on display at Gramercy Books as part of Autism Acceptance Month.

Photo taken by Gaby McCain.
Bernard Rimland, Ph.D., founded the Autism Society in 1965. His first book, “Infantile Autism,” was influential in changing attitudes towards the disorder.

The month of April has become a time of celebration for the neurodivergent community, particularly those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The first notable recognition of the autistic community was in 1972 by the National Autism Society of America (NAS), the oldest and largest grassroots autism organization. As part of the organization’s efforts to improve the quality of life for autistic people and promote a healthier understanding of autism, they hosted the first annual National Autistic Children’s Week.

The following year, National Autistic Children’s Week was more formally recognized by then-president Richard Nixon.

In 1988, Ronald Reagan issued a presidential proclamation declaring April as Autism Awareness Month.

In 2011, the NAS began referring to Autism Awareness Month as Autism Acceptance Month as widespread understandings of the disorder evolved.

“While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life,” said Christopher Banks, the current CEO of the National Autism Society. “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.”

President Biden’s 2024 proclamation of World Autism Acceptance Day represented a further shift toward acceptance.

However, there remains a stigma against autistic people. Despite the discrediting of theories such as the connection between vaccines and autism, autism remains seen by some as innately abnormal.

Ashton Polley, a senior philosophy major, shared her story regarding her initial experiences with autistic people. Growing up, she saw autistic students cordoned off and isolated from the rest of the school.

“I kind of assumed that because the school was separating them that they were inherently dangerous people and I needed to be careful of them,” said Polley. “In retrospect, I feel terrible about the way that I thought back then. But it was true that because of the way that they were treated by the administration, I believed that they were inherently some kind of danger to the other students and needed to be sectioned away.”

Celebrations of neurodiversity such as Autism Acceptance Month have sought to switch the narrative from viewing autism as a purely symptomatic condition to a more holistic view of personhood. 

Elizabeth Klainot-Hess, a sociology and criminology professor, desires to champion the creative interests of autistic students: “I think in classes also, it’s important to have a variety of different assignments where people can show different skills and just let people’s different skills shine,” she said.

Despite the difficulties autistic people face, “they still live and should be celebrated,” said Polley.

While there is no formal government designation for Autism Acceptance Month, organizations such as the NAS continue to lobby the government for such recognition.

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