Saturday, September 7, 2013

My Autism Acceptance Month Speech

I am an Autistic adult and the sole Autistic board member of the Autism Society of Northern Virginia. 

Autism is not a disease; there is no “cure” for Autism.  So much time, effort, and money has been devoted to “curing” Autism, when it should have been put toward how to truly accept Autistics into our society, assuring that all who seek/need supports have access to them regardless of their “functional” level.  Functionality is a relative term, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, we are not all alike, even within specific diagnoses, and different people function differently in different situations, I stress again that we are not all alike.  Autism is a spectrum, within it there are differing hues of color and each individual who is diagnosed is unique.  Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Rhett’s Syndrome, we are all part of one community, the Autistic Community.  It is within this community that we find our strength.  Until I was finally diagnosed, prior to that I had a handful of diagnoses, including learning disabilities, but no one had properly connected the dots, I truly thought that I did not belong anywhere, now I know I do and I will fight for my community, Acceptance is what I and others are fighting for. 

Autism is a Developmental Disability and like any other disability Autistics deserve respect and acceptance. 

Many on the Autism Spectrum have felt like they were “from a different planet”, that they have never fit in, we never should have been made to feel that way; we are all unique and special, we should be accepted as such, stims and all. 

Autistic people are not less than Neurotypical people, we are just different and it is OK to be different.  Being like everyone else is boring!  ;) 

We are just like you in more ways that you can imagine. 

We may feel things more deeply in many cases and we react to them in ways not of the norm as we do to sounds, smells, lights, touch, etc., but we are just as human as you are. 

Some of us may not “speak” as I am now, but that does not mean that we have nothing to say.  The internet is filled with Autistics “speaking” every minute of everyday.  The internet for many is an easier medium in which to communicate thought, etc., whether you are non-verbal or not it is a haven where Autistics can truly be themselves without judgment or criticism due to stimming or handflapping, etc. by our society at large.  It is in the internet that we truly shine. 

The rest of the world discriminates against us, ours is a hidden disability and therefore when we are acting as our true selves we are ridiculed or feared.  Many Autistics who can “pass as a Neurotypical person” are doing so; they are hiding their true nature to conform, expending so much energy trying to fit in that they have been known to burn out from exhaustion, there are many blogs that attest to this.  Some refer to themselves as being “closeted” or “in the closet”; they want no one to know they are Autistic for fear of reprisals.  This is not the way anyone should have to live.  The word “passing” harkens back to what many light skinned Blacks did in the majority White work-force prior to and up to the passing of the Civil Rights Amendment.  The word “closeted” or describing oneself as being “in the closet” is a phrase used by the Gay Community to say that one is not open about their sexual orientation, we use it in terms of our Autism, another word, borrowed from the Gay Community, used by Autistics is “out”, as in “I am an out Autistic”, which of course I am, there are many correlations that can be drawn between the Civil Rights Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, and what Autistics are working for today.  We deserve the same respect and rights as other disabilities. 

Other disabilities are accepted in our society, from blindness to Down Syndrome and individuals are given the supports they need to take part, we deserve the same acceptance. 

Autism Acceptance is not all about you accepting your diagnosis or the diagnosis of your child it is instead about our society as a whole accepting Autistics for who we truly are stims and all, instead of excluding us.  Autism Acceptance is not about seeking cures, it is anti-cure at its center, and it is all about Neurodiversity.  We have a unique set of characteristics that provide us with many rewards and challenges.   The desire for a “cure” means that we are broken somehow; we are not, we all have something to offer society, from a brilliant discovery to a smile and should be allowed to express it. 

Within the Autistic Community people have been talking about Autism Acceptance and how we can make it happen in the wider community for years now.  Days like Autism Acceptance Day, an all online event, started by Paula Durbin-Westby in April 2011: celebrated on April 2nd, Autistic Pride Day started by Aspies for Freedom in June 2005: celebrated on June 18th, and my suggestion with further urging for the renaming of April, in Northern Virginia, to be called Autism Acceptance Month, etc. have all been born out of this desire to have positive images and expressions about Autism to combat all of the horrible images associated with it, slowly we are making a mark, but this is merely a start, in order for such things like Autism Acceptance Month, etc. to really make an impact we have to reach beyond these designated months and days and make Autism Acceptance a priority in our communities every day. 

This is what April is all about here in Northern Virginia, as you know the Autism Society of Northern Virginia has renamed the month formally, we as a chapter board voted unanimously in November of 2011 to make a crucial step in the right direction.  April in Northern Virginia is now known as Autism Acceptance Month, and I played an instrumental role in making this come about.  Everyone is “aware” of Autism, the next true step for the Autistic Community, my community, is ACCEPTANCE. 

As I have previously stated, Autism Acceptance should not be thought of one day or one month a year, it is something that we as a society need to strive toward each and every day. 

I ask that you work toward Autism Acceptance in each of your given communities every day, if we do not all work toward this common goal, for our Autistic selves and our Autistic children, there will be no hope for future generations.

I hope that you and your families have had a good Autism Acceptance Month!

Speech was read at first-ever Autism Acceptance Month Walk in Northern Virginia on April 28, 2012

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