Autistic teenager teaches 101-year-old how to street dance
Olive Loveridge-Greene

Autistic activists have begun sharing advice and information about the neurological condition today, as this year’s Autism Acceptance Week gets underway.

According to the National Autistic Society (NAS), autism is lifelong disability which “affects how people communicate and interact with the world”, and it’s understood that there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

Autistic people can have difficulty communicating in social environments, experience under- or over-sensitivity to certain senses (such as light or sound), and/or have meltdowns when they receive an overwhelming amount of information.

However, as it is – as previously mentioned – a spectrum condition, NAS say autism “affects people in different ways”. Autistic people often use a ‘rainbow infinity symbol’ to represent their neurodivergence, which refers to brain processes which are different to what is considered ‘neurotypical’.

This is in contrast to the puzzle piece, a symbol adopted by the US “hate group” Autism Speaks and considered offensive for portraying autism as a “puzzling condition”.

In a piece for The Mighty last year, autistic writer, Richard Coffey, said: “The first issue with the puzzle piece and the puzzle ribbon is that it infantilises autism. Puzzles, by and large, are games designed for children, and the puzzle piece helps create the perception that autism is solely a childhood condition and doesn’t affect adults.

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“The second major issue with the puzzle piece is what it insinuates. A puzzle piece is part of something unfinished.

“A puzzle piece by itself inherently means that the puzzle is incomplete. It implies that we are not complete people, that autism is something to be ashamed of because it means we are missing a piece of ourselves.”

Now, however, there is an annual acceptance week that hopes to place a focus on the experiences of autistic people – but how, exactly?

It began with a World Autism Awareness Day

In 2007, the United Nations’ General Assembly passed a resolution that meant World Autism Awareness Day would be celebrated every year on 2nd April, starting in 2008.

A UN webpage about the day states it is in place to “highlight the need to help improve the quality of life of [autistic people] so they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society”.

It reads: “Appropriate support, accommodation and acceptance of this neurological variation allow those on the [autistic] spectrum to enjoy equal opportunity and full and effective participation in society.

“Autism is mainly characterised by its unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information.

“The [prevalence] of autism in all regions of the world is high and the lack of understanding has a tremendous impact on the individuals, their families and communities.”

This year, 2nd April falls on a Saturday, with Autism Acceptance Week expanded out to cover Monday 28th March to Sunday 3rd April.

Acceptance, not awareness

However, in recent years the autistic community has moved towards calling it Autism Acceptance Week, as opposed to an awareness week, with acceptance “[requiring] actual work”.

A blog post published by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) – an American non-profit run by autistic people – in 2012 reads: “Acceptance and awareness come from vastly different mindsets. Awareness seeks to highlight how Other we are and emphasises the differences and distance between our ways of being.

“Acceptance, though. Acceptance says ‘you are you, and that’s pretty awesome. I am me, and that’s pretty awesome.’

“Acceptance seeks to meet us where we are, or at least far closer to equitably than awareness does.”

The visibility of autism in the mainstream has also been given as a reason for moving away from ‘awareness’, with the Sarinah O’Donoghue writing for BBC’s The Social: “Autism is now a very well-known condition so raising awareness of it is less relevant than it was a few decades ago. Also, in popular media, autism is often portrayed as something to be feared or eradicated.

“While autism is a common topic in films, TV, and books, it is rare that autistic characters are fully accepted for who they are, so ‘awareness’ isn’t enough.”

Here’s what autistic people want you to know

Autistic people have now begun sharing tips at the start of Autism Acceptance Week, with #AutismAcceptanceWeek currently trending on Twitter:

More information about autism can be found on the National Autistic Society’s website.

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