By Dawn M. Turnage, PhD, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
April 28, 2021
As this month of autism awareness and acceptance comes to a close and I think about all of the blogs, posts, and comments that I have read, I can honestly say that I have learned more in this past year than any other year. I have learned that some prefer the term autistic over autism. I have learned about the neurodiversity movement and the idea that all types of brain function are unique and that is ok. I have learned that the puzzle piece can be polarizing. I have learned that the internet can be negative but can also be filled with love and support. I have also learned that awareness and acceptance in the autistic community can and must coexist and we need to be united in our mission of support for all autistic people.
I am aware of autism. I am the mom to a wonderful person with severe autism, or a wonderfully autistic person. He cannot speak to tell me which terms he prefers, so I will include both. He needs, and will always need, 24-hour care. I want every single person that my son will ever interact with to be aware of autism. I want better policies to care for people like my son. I want better support to help him find a job and live, with support, in his community. I want him to have opportunities to make friends and to be an active member in his community. I want better training for first responders and law enforcement officers, so that we can avoid potentially harmful interactions. These things do not come without awareness.
I also understand and accept that all people are unique, and that autistic people are not “less than.” There is no cure for autism. We should not expect autistic people to conform to society’s ideas of normal. We cannot expect autistic people to mask or hide the things that make them unique. Autistic people can be creative, innovative, and incredibly talented and intelligent and these things should be celebrated and not concealed. In the same way that race, ethnicity, and gender should be respected, neurodiversity should be respected. Diversity and neurodiversity make the world richer and more exciting!
Both awareness and acceptance are needed. Neither of these is negative. One is not better than the other. The autism community is painfully divided. Even the way we discuss the spectrum of the diagnosis of autism as low-functioning to high-functioning is polarizing. We want the world to be aware of autistic people and accept autism, but we are still working to accept each other. We need more support of each other and less judgement. We need to recognize that there are differing levels of being autistic and that everyone needs differing levels of support.
We need to unite to recognize and support the unique needs of all members in our community. There is a place in the autistic community and in the world for both awareness and acceptance, just as there is a place for each autistic individual.