Autism Society of America Launches Campaign to Weave Autism Acceptance into Our Social Fabric
By Amy KD Tobik
The Autism Society of America, the nation’s oldest leading grassroots autism organization, is conducting a collaborative venture with national autism and disability organizations to advocate for April to be officially designated as Autism Acceptance Month. Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America, believes the shift from the commonly used slogan, Autism Awareness Month, to ‘Autism Acceptance Month’ will create additional opportunities for inclusion and support for all members of the autism community.
Learn more about this meaningful shift in terminology and what it means for the future of autistic individuals and their families in an exclusive interview with Christopher.
The Autism Society of America first launched advocacy campaigns back in the 1970s when few people knew about autism spectrum disorder (ASD). How has terminology shifted over the years, and how has this evolution helped to empower autistic individuals and their families?
In 1972, the Autism Society of America founded “National Autistic Children’s Week,” which has since evolved into a global grassroots movement for April to celebrate Autism Awareness Month. This movement provided an opportunity for education and research into autism spectrum disorder at a time when the general public did not know much about autism. Through decades of advocacy, awareness has become more widespread to encourage earlier diagnosis, better diagnostic practices, and more funding dedicated to supports and services throughout an individual’s life. Autism Awareness Month allowed autistic individuals and their families to be seen, heard, and recognized through a greater community of connections. Throughout our 56-year history, we have prided ourselves on being a leader, and our efforts this year include advocating for a federally recognized designation for April to become Autism Acceptance Month.
Over the past few decades, many advocacy groups have incorporated the term acceptance into their language to more fully integrate the millions of people diagnosed with autism, including the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). What inspired the Autism Society of America to formally shift its language from “Autism Awareness Month” to “Autism Acceptance Month” in 2021?
April has widely been known as Autism Awareness Month in the United States as a way to empower autistic individuals and their families. This year the Autism Society of America, alongside the greater autism community, is formally shifting references of Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month. Words matter. As we work to create a more accepting society, we must also accept autistic individuals for who they are. Acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to being valued and finding and developing a strong support system.
While many organizations and advocates have long used the terminology surrounding acceptance, there has never been a formal designation for the month.
The Autism Society of America and its 75 affiliates are advocating for Autism Acceptance Month to be formally designated at the local, state, and federal levels. Alongside other national disability organizations and community advocates, this message is being carried out by thousands of individuals through unified messaging to media, lawmakers, and the general public.
Why do you believe this shift in language is vital for the autism community? What changes do you hope this change will ignite?
Fostering acceptance is critically important to improving opportunities in education, employment, accessible housing, affordable health care, and comprehensive long-term services and supports. It is not enough to be aware of autism, our society needs to accept the autism community and take actionable steps to better support individuals to live quality, meaningful, and supported lives. Acceptance puts pressure on our leaders to dedicate more funding in support services for the autistic community.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the autism community has been disproportionately impacted. As solutions to address COVID-19 are implemented, acceptance and inclusion of autistic individuals will be critical to the community’s health and well-being. Now is the time to highlight the need for acceptance so that those affected with autism can access services and support for safe and healthy living.
Early diagnosis is the key to ensuring an autistic child gets the essential support and services needed. A recent study found that the average age of ASD diagnosis can be reduced by two years with standardized screenings in pediatric check-ins at 18 and 24 months. Acceptance leads to healthcare equity and widespread adoption for healthcare providers to access the tools needed for accurate early diagnosis.
Too often, assumptions are made about people on the autism spectrum by people who don’t understand the diagnosis. Do you think an official designation of Autism Acceptance Month will help reduce misconceptions?
While we will always work to educate others about autism, words matter—the need for acceptance is greater than ever, as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life. We believe inclusion begins with acceptance, and by being integrated into our social fabric, misconceptions, and stereotypes will have a greater chance of being disproven.
In addition to our advocacy surrounding acceptance, people can visit AutismAcceptance.org to download resources about signs, symptoms, and facts surrounding autism to further combat misconceptions.
How do you think the revised terminology will positively affect autistic individuals and their families for the future?
Awareness is education. It’s knowing that an individual has autism. Acceptance is finding pathways for inclusion and support, ensuring that the individual you are aware of is fully incorporated into the social fabric.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that we are complacent. It means we recognize the need to fully accept autistic individuals into our lives to be supported as meaningful members of society. We are dedicated to providing accommodations, committing resources and support, and to considering the autistic community with any decisions that affect the public.
About Autism Society of America
As the nation’s oldest leading grassroots autism organization and exists to improve the lives of all affected by autism. Annually, the Autism Society and its 75 local affiliates serve over half a million individuals impacted by autism through education, advocacy, information and referral services, support, and providing community inclusion and acceptance at the national, state, and local levels. For Autism Acceptance Month in 2021, the Autism Society of America has set a fundraising goal of $200,000 to grow its impact and serve even more people.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AutismSociety #CelebrateDifferences aims to champion those affected by autism to live full, quality lives through connection and acceptance. This coincides with the Autism Society’s collaborative effort to advocate for a formal federal designation to make April Autism Acceptance Month.
Christopher Banks has a comprehensive background in human services and the healthcare arena, where he has had a successful record of increasing fundraising efforts, measurably improving revenue strategies, and being a transformational leader committed to diversity and cultural growth. Most recently, he served as Vice President of Development and Community Engagement at Charles E. Smith Life Communities in Rockville, Maryland; here, he provided leadership in the development, implementation, and evaluation of all philanthropic and community engagement efforts. His daily work supported the organization’s impact strategy and aimed to accelerate growth while building strong community partners. A native of Hazlet, NJ, Chris has spent the better part of the last 25 years in the New York Metropolitan area and has two adult children, Patrick and Quinn. He currently lives in Rockville, MD, and joined the Autism Society of America in January 2020.
Amy KD Tobik is the editor-in-chief of Exceptional Needs Today magazine. She coordinates and directs an impressive group of doctors, therapists, and writers to provide expert guidance and support for special needs families. A graduate of Sweet Briar College in VA, Amy’s experience includes more than 30 years of writing/editing monthly magazines, newspapers, technical documents/manuals, books, and websites. Her special interests include advocating for children, special needs families, and education. She is the CEO of Lone Heron Publishing, LLC.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN ISSUE 3 OF EXCEPTIONAL NEEDS TODAY MAGAZINE