There’s a big difference between autism acceptance and autism awareness.

Hint: Many diseases like breast cancer and stroke have “awareness” months.

The goal is to obliterate these medical conditions – and that can only be done with heightened awareness.

So when we also say “autism awareness,” this might subliminally, to some people, suggest that we need to obliterate or cure autism as well. Let’s dig deeper.

While these terms, acceptance and awareness, may seem similar at first glance, they represent different approaches and attitudes towards Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism Awareness: A Starting Point

©Lorra Garrick

Autism awareness refers to the knowledge and understanding of autism within society.

It involves recognizing the characteristics, challenges and prevalence of ASD.

The autism awareness movement has made considerable strides in disseminating information about ASD, breaking down misconceptions and fostering empathy towards individuals on the Spectrum.

Various initiatives, such as Autism Awareness Month, campaigns and educational programs aim to raise public consciousness about autism.

The emphasis of autism awareness lies in promoting early detection, diagnosis and intervention.

By increasing awareness, communities can enhance support systems for autistic people.

A support system can be as simple (and as easy to implement) as ensuring that the one autistic student in geometry class isn’t required to join a group when the teacher orders everyone to “get into groups to do the new assignment.” (Yes, happened to me a number of times.)

Heightened awareness gives rise to inclusivity in educational, workplace and social settings, facilitating greater understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity.

However, critics argue that autism awareness often perpetuates a deficit-based narrative, focusing solely on the challenges and deficits associated with autism.

This approach may reinforce stereotypes, stigmatize individuals on the Spectrum, and overlook their strengths and unique perspectives.

Furthermore, awareness campaigns sometimes prioritize fundraising or symbolic gestures over tangible support and advocacy efforts.

Autism Acceptance: Embracing Neurodiversity

©Lorra Garrick

Autism acceptance transcends mere awareness, advocating for the full inclusion, understanding and celebration of neurodiversity.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Autistics, such as myself, expect non-Autistics to jump around with balloons, banners and ribbons and sing songs of celebration that there are Autists among them.

“Celebration” can simply mean appreciation and acknowledging that with autism comes numerous strengths or, as some like to say, superpowers.

Those strengths include a heightened sense of justice, being straightforward and honest, a disdain for playing head games, and making major decisions based on facts and analysis rather than on emotions, feelings and how many other people have made the same decision.

Acceptance entails recognizing autism as a natural variation of human cognition, rather than a pathology or disorder to be cured or suppressed.

The acceptance paradigm emphasizes the inherent value, dignity and rights of autistic people, affirming their autonomy, agency and contributions to society.

At its core, autism acceptance disputes societal norms and expectations, promoting acceptance and accommodation rather than assimilation or conformity.

Speaking of assimilation: Imagine if the Borg really existed (“Star Trek” fans will know what this is).

Whom do you think is far more likely to be “assimilated” by the Borg Collective? Autistics or neurotypicals? Hmmmm.

It encourages embracing the diverse ways in which Autistics experience the world, communicate and interact.

Autism acceptance movements advocate for systemic changes across various domains, including education, healthcare, employment and public policy.

Moreover, acceptance initiatives prioritize building genuine connections, fostering meaningful relationships and promoting social inclusion for autistic individuals.

In short, there’s a whole lotta difference between autism acceptance and autism awareness.

Implications and Impact

The shift from autism awareness to autism acceptance carries profound implications.

By promoting acceptance, communities can create environments that are more inclusive, equitable and respectful of neurodiversity.

This shift also encourages a paradigmatic change in how society perceives and interacts with Autists, moving away from a deficit-based model towards one that emphasizes strengths, capabilities and potential.

It also encourages moving away from an “intimidation-based” model.

Many neurotypicals, indeed, would find it intimidating or creepy to be in close proximity to someone with very obvious signs of ASD.

Or, at a minimum, they’d feel uneasy or ill-at-ease, such as if standing in line right behind a woman and her teen autistic daughter who’s stimming without abandon.

This is a good time for me to point out that all my life, I’ve found it intriguing to be in close proximity to anyone with a very visible cognitive condition.

I never felt fear, intimidation or experienced being “creeped out.” Perhaps my natural or intuitive ease being around such individuals can be explained by my own autism!

More than once, during youth when an older sister and I were with our mother on shopping trips, I’d suddenly hear my sister say to me, “Don’t stare,” even though I had not yet discovered the object of her instruction.

This directive told me that she was first to spot someone acting oddly.

Of course, her revelation that such an individual was nearby made me want to look around to observe that person.

Her plan would always backfire. I’d stare – out of fascination – though I also knew well enough to make sure that whomever was with the person didn’t catch me staring.

Anyways, autism acceptance creates a sense of belonging and validation for Autists, reducing feelings of isolation, marginalization and discrimination.

It empowers individuals on the Spectrum to embrace their identity, advocate for their needs, and pursue their goals and aspirations.

Additionally, acceptance initiatives promote allyship and solidarity among neurotypicals, encouraging them to become allies in the fight for inclusion and social justice.

Autistics and NTs need to work together, not against each other.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder. 


Top image: ©Lorra Garrick