Welcome to April, or world autism acceptance month. As it happens, world autism awareness day is observed on April 2nd every year, but this time the Autism Society is taking to social media to evolve the title to Autism Acceptance Month. Back in 1972, the autism society of America, the United States’ oldest leading grassroots autism organization, launched an ongoing international effort to promote autism awareness.
This April, we continue our efforts to spread awareness, promote acceptance, and ignite change. Here we’ll let our words revolve around what autism is all about while also eliminating certain myths. autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions categorized by challenges that concern ones social activity, mental health, repetitive behavior, speech and nonverbal communication, and more.
Despite the name of this disorder making it obvious, many people perceive this to be a scale or a gradient instead of a spectrum. Autism isn’t a set of defined symptoms that collectively worsen as you move up the spectrum. This spectrum can go from obstacles in pragmatic language (social communication including body language, eye contact, small talk and turn taking in conversation) to social awareness (ability to pick up on etiquette, social norms, taboos, ability to form and maintain relationships) to monotropic mindset, which is also considered to be the underlying feature of autism. (Narrow but intense ability to focus, resulting in “obsessive” interests and difficulty task switching). The spectrum also ranges wide into information or sensory processing (ability to assimilate and apply new information quickly or to adapt to new environment situations, challenges interpreting sensory information, hypersensitivity to stimuli also comes under this category). Neuro motor differences and repetitive behaviors too, are often observed. A person doesn’t necessarily have to show every symptom based on the spectrum, all autistic people are affected in one way or another. But in order for a person to be considered autistic, they must have difficulty in multiple categories spanning the spectrum.
Diagnosis depends on evidence that you do span the spectrum in observable ways. Second on list we have is a widely believed myth that suggests autism can be caught through vaccines. Firstly, it is not something to be “cured” nor can you catch it from a vaccine. This debate began in 1998 when British researchers published a paper stating that the measles mumps rubella vaccine caused autism. The paper itself was officially labelled as fraudulent by England’s general medicine counsel, but it still managed to provoke debates over the safety of vaccines which live to this day. An investigation into the 1998 study also uncovered a number of problems with how it was conducted. The journal that published it eventually retracted it. That meant the publication no longer stood by the results. Many researches were conducted regarding the same and no evidence was found that vaccines cause autism. Moving on, there is no such thing as looking autistic. A stereotypical way of looking at autistic people has planted a seed in many minds. From neurotypical individuals to those who stand over the autistic spectrum, there is no specific way to determine you have autism.
Next up we have is the correct way to refer to those with autism. Words can leave massive impacts on people (we hope our article does!). This is especially the case when it comes to disability. The word “autistic” is not a slur, and disabled is not a bad word. However, person first language is considered more suitable when referring to those with autism. It has also become the recommended way to speak with or about disability, in the press, journal articles, hospitals and schools. Many activists and disabled people argue against this form of reference, as they consider it to be dehumanizing. These arguments sure appear to be difficult to understand, but it is surely not difficult to argue that truly inclusive language should be defined by the people who are actually autistic. Not by well-meaning outsiders, no matter how powerful they stand.
Coming to functioning labels. Here we mean to throw light over labels like low functioning and high functioning, and how they prove to be harmful and promote ableism. It is more than obvious that failing to acknowledge neurodiversity beyond just cognitive ability can be hurtful to autistic people. These labels are known to isolate disabled people from the non-disabled section of society, so as to segregate them and reduce them to a malfunctioning being while also evolving society into a hierarchy in favor of abled people.
As we move further into raising awareness about autism, what is it that we can do? Simple things like content, flash or trigger warnings and using closed captioning is proven to be incredibly helpful to those with autism.
Since April will soon come to an end, it’s necessary to make sure acceptance lives on. The autism society successfully managed to add acceptance to this month’s name but it is something the global population has been and continues to struggle with, but engaging in conversation and learning about one another’s perspectives, we can individually become accepting and assure that all autistic people are able to achieve the highest quality of life possible.
~ Risika Singh