Thursday, March 28, 2013

Awareness vs Acceptance

Being aware of something is quite different than being accepting of it. 

Awareness- knowledge or perception of a situation or fact

Acceptance- the process or fact of being received as adequate, valid, or suitable

"Awareness says the tragedy is that I exist as I am. Acceptance says that the tragedy would be trying to make me any other way" Kassianne of Radical Neurodivergence Speaking wrote, in an article published by ASAN. You can read the whole article here (and you probably should read it as Kassianne has been thinking about, and living with, the issue of awareness vs acceptance a lot longer than I have). You may agree or disagree with her that her statement is true. But the fact is, that all Autism Awareness campaigns have achieved for Autistic Adults in many cases is to help them feel that "normal" people see them as wrong. 

I have a 14 year old Autistic son, who is rapidly approaching adulthood. There are many things I want to help him achieve. There are also many things I want to avoid as I support him navigating life. One of the things I most want to avoid is him thinking that I believe he is not good enough just as he is. I am very aware that one day he might read everything I have written in this blog. If he does, he will see the posts I wrote last year in April for #Autism Awareness month. They were a series of Question and Answer style posts. No doubt if I were to sit and write them again now they'd be a bit different, as I have learned a lot in the past year, and my attitudes have changed in some ways. Life is, after all, a journey.

He will also one day read the things I will write this April.  He will probably notice that this year I will not be using the phrase #Autism Awareness. 

Along with many other bloggers, I will be calling April #Autism Acceptance Month.

If you have time, read this article by Steve Silberman at NeuroTribes for an explanation of why- it is long, but really, really worth it. Steve has written thoughtfully and insightfully on this topic, and includes interviews with many wonderful Autistic Advocates (some of whom I am immensely grateful to have been given the opportunity to get to know online recently). I could write pages of my developing thoughts on this topic, but it would still just be the thoughts of a parent of Autistic children, and what you really need to hear is what Autistic Adults think and feel about Awareness and Acceptance. So, please do read Steve's article. If you can't make time to read the whole article, just read the next bit here, which is taken from it:

Two years ago, [Paula] Durbin-Westby proposed that autistic people and their families and friends recast April 2 as an occasion for promoting acceptance and understanding rather than vague “awareness,” and reclaim the day as an annual opportunity to celebrate their community’s diversity and vitality. ”I started Autism Acceptance Day as a corrective to the ubiquitous negative images we see every April,” she recalls. “The first World Autism Awareness Day referred to autism as an ‘equal destroyer.’ From videos that talk about autism as some sort of soul-sucking demonic persona, to 150 empty strollers signifying that autism has robbed parents of their toddlers, navigating April for many Autistics has been like walking through a field of (stroller-shaped) land mines. No more! Autism Acceptance Day takes back April and puts it where it belongs — into the hands of Autistic people, supportive family members, friends, and communities.”
Durbin-Westby’s notion of rebranding April 2 in a more positive and proactive light is catching on with local autism advocacy groups worldwide. The Autism Society of Northern Virginia recently declared April to be Autism Acceptance Month, and other groups are getting onboard via social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Obviously, even a month of acceptance will not be enough to dramatically improve the lives of people on the spectrum. What could be done to make the world a more comfortable, respectful, and nurturing place for millions of autistic kids and adults  – now, starting today?
That’s the question I posed to a group of self-advocates, parents, and teachers that included Nick Walker, an autistic aikido master who founded his own dojo in Berkeley; the first openly autistic White House appointee, Ari Ne’eman; Emily Willingham, one of the sharpest science writers in the blogosphere; Lydia Brown, a prolifically articulate and thoughtful 18-year-old self-advocate at Georgetown University; Todd Drezner, director of Loving Lamppostsa groundbreaking documentary on autism and neurodiversity from a father’s perspective; and the editors of Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, which is my personal recommendation for parents to read after their son or daughter’s diagnosis.

Throughout April this year I will be posting stories about Autism Acceptance. Sometimes I will quote others who have much more experience in this than I do. Sometimes I will talk to you about my children. Always I will be celebrating Autistic people and their achievements. I will be talking about the difference between awareness and acceptance, and the impact the two can have on Autistic people. I hope you will join me this April for #Autism Acceptance Month.


  1. This is a wonderful explanation! Thank you, Michelle!

  2. A really great post and explanation! My boy, H, is 14 as well... and I feel like you do about writing things that he can look back upon and feel that he is accepted, supported, and understood. So happy to find your blog! Together so many of us are working to support and include the voices of autistic adults (and soon to be adults) and do our part to change the conversation. Lovely!

    1. Thanks Leah. Great to have you visit. :-) Love being part of a community that cares for each other and works together to see things change.


You can read my comment policy by clicking on the link at the top right of the page.