Today is April 1. That date means a lot of things; April Fools Day, that we’re about 25% through the year, that the end of the school year is almost in sight. But for many autistic people, April 1 is also the first day of the worst month of the year. You see, April is Autism Awareness Month, the month where even companies and public figures who we want to like will repeatedly remind us that they consider us diseased, damaged and in need of fixing.
Autism Awareness Month is something many autistic people have grown to hate. It is the month where everyone decides to support the “charity” Autism Speaks, which is effectively a hate group in the minds of many autistic people. This is an organization that is a massive driver of Autism Awareness Month; their “Light It Up Blue” slogan can be seen almost constantly for the month of April as various monuments like the White House, the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal.
These monuments and the many companies that support Autism Speaks this month are either unaware of the many ways that Autism Speaks doesn’t actually help autistic people or they simply don’t care. Autism Speaks as an organization has published horrifically offensive videos comparing autism to childhood cancer or AIDS, supported torturous Applied Behavioral Analysis “therapy” — which is effectively just conversion therapy for autistic people — and has routinely tried to advocate for a cure for autism, something that many autistic advocates are strongly opposed to. Though the word cure was removed from their mission statement in 2016 they still heavily advocate for “treatment” which…feels very similar.
That’s why many autistic people will spend the month of April angry, watching celebrities and organizations that they like support a charity that would like to effectively see them no longer exist. It’s like all the work autistic advocates do all year — fighting to get people to see us as people and not statistics, not children “stolen” from their parents, not something to be fixed — doesn’t matter when April comes calling.
But groups like the Autism Self Advocacy Network, or ASAN, have done some work to change that. Self-advocates have fought to rename the month Autism Acceptance Month, arguing that awareness of the fact that autistic people exist is not the same as actually supporting them. The Autism Acceptance Project website, which is run by ASAN, says “Autism Acceptance Month promotes acceptance and celebration of autistic people as family members, friends, classmates, co-workers and community members making valuable contributions to our world. Autism is a natural variation of the human experience, and we can all create a world which values, includes and celebrates all kinds of minds.”
Instead of supporting Autism Speaks this month, people and companies should donate money to organizations that directly benefit autistic people and their lives. There are numerous organizations in the United States and abroad that help autistic people and advocate for accessibility and basic human rights. These organizations deserve to have their day in the spotlight instead of Autism Speaks, which is very close to legitimately being able to be called a hate group.
Autistic people are not broken. We are not damaged. We are not stolen. We are not something that needs to be fixed or cured or eliminated from the gene pool. We are people, just like anyone else. We have dreams, goals and things we want to accomplish. And we have fears, too, of bugs, or water, or heights. But we shouldn’t have to be afraid of an organization that claims it wants to support us. We shouldn’t have to be afraid of another misinformation campaign comparing us to diseases that kill children, like Autism Speaks has done multiple times. Despite their claims of changing, their 100 Day kit still talks about parents grieving. Grief is for the dead, and anyone grieving over their child not being precisely what they wanted probably shouldn’t have one at all.
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Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.