Monday, May 2, 2022

The Process to Acceptance

April is over so the ribbons will disappear, news stories will stop, and for a big chunk of society the terminology of the autism spectrum may not be heard until April 2023. The words may be spoken around them, and there may be a single news story they see, but they won't hear it in the ways I see the pathway to acceptance.

A decade ago, we said "Autism Awareness" month. Some are now against that word of awareness, and I can respect their reasons, but we had to start there. I tend to take words on a more literal level so before one can accept something they must first be aware of it. When I was born in 1983 there was zero awareness as the rate of autism was somewhere around 1 in 1500. I wasn't aware of the autism spectrum and what Asperger's meant and neither was my doctor back in 2003 so that led to a horrible introduction to the autism spectrum. Even in 2009 there was a long way to go to garner the level of awareness we needed because, and I remember this vividly at a GameStop when I told someone I had Asperger's, they said, "Wait, did you say you ate a hamburger?" Sad, but true.

The word used now is that we've gone from awareness to acceptance. Other advocates look at this from an angle that over usage of autism awareness will lead to the problem of typical stereotypes and that it could create a perception that we are a mystery to be solved. I agree with this because a blanket statement will completely disregard the "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism." However, and this is the way I see words, the word acceptance makes me a tad bit uneasy. Why? First, go back to the night of my diagnosis; I've told this story 1,000 times and I'll probably share it 10,000 more times in that the doctor told me "good luck" and a website said that I would, "never have a job, friends, or be happy." I accepted this life sentence of misery. In the original manuscript of Finding Kansas, I used that exact word usage that I accepted this sentence. 

Secondly, the word makes me worry as to parts of the world that are lacking in the awareness area. How can one properly accept something that isn't known whatsoever? If proper awareness is given without blanket statements that speak for all then the pathway to acceptance can happen. However, there's a word I'd like to see used over each of those words and that word is understanding.

In the first generation of my, my motto was "understanding is the foundation for hope." Perhaps understanding and acceptance are part of the same family but, if we are looking at the literal way words would work and the steps it would take, it would go like, "We need awareness to build understanding to gain full acceptance." 

I don't think we are anywhere near the point of a world where we can say without hesitation that we have acceptance in all corners of society. I firmly believe we can get there, but until there's a full representation of the autism spectrum in writings, and in media portrayals, how can the person I started this post by mentioning, the person that hears about autism once a year, how can they possibly understand and then accept? Of everyone in society they are the ones that need to know the most. One random encounter can cause a short term, or perhaps a lifelong fear of others. And what if they're an authority figure. A teacher? A police officer? A doctor?

We can get to the world we need to be and whatever word someone wants to use, well, I think it depends on what the level of knowledge around them is. I hope we can drop the word awareness soon, and then focus on autism understanding, so there's full acceptance of autism so those on the spectrum can go through life in school, at work, with friends and family, and have whatever growth they'd like to have in life without the constant frustrations of a world that has no acceptance or understanding.

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