Zoom Autism Magazine Issue 3 Spring 2015 - Page 11

Autism acceptance, as a concept, has been around for years; however, it wasn’t until 2011 that autistic advocates, led by Paula Durbin Westby, organized the first Autism Acceptance Month celebrations. Back in 2011, I didn’t yet know that I was autistic, but I did have an autistic son (still do). At the time, I was all for autism acceptance. My life centered on getting people to embrace my son for who he was. I already believed in neurodiversity. I always said that my goal with my kiddo was to raise a proud, happy autistic man. Yet I spent years arguing that autism awareness still mattered. Why? Because I had person after person ask me, “What is autism?” I had parents ask me. I had teachers ask me. I had young people ask me. They all knew the word, but they didn’t know what it meant, how it manifested, what they could do when encountering someone with autism. and respect others who are different as well. Because, see, when you don’t accept us because of who we are, when you fight against an integral part of our beings, when you teach people to be aware of autism so that they can try to eradicate it, you are telling us that we are less than people, that the world doesn’t belong to us too, and that is simply not the case! At this point, I am actually waiting for Autism Celebration Month, but for now, accepting it will do. The Winegardner sibs: Jack, Sam and Quinn While I still answer those questions and clarify what autism is to people who don’t understand, I no longer believe that we should strive for awareness. I don’t much care if you know which of my or my son’s behaviors makes us autistic. What I want is for you to show us respect and acceptance when we act or think differently than you expect. It can no longer be enough to tell parents the signs of autism so that they can look for it in their children. It can no longer be enough for teachers to be able to recognize autism when they see it. It can no longer be enough for society to think of us in terms of some fuzzy awareness campaign. What we need is to be valued for who we are, what we are, regardless of how we are. We need to be supported without being forced to change. When I talk to kids as I did at my son’s school, I tell them what makes someone autistic, but I don’t stop there. I tell them how to accept autistic people into their lives and schools and hearts. I always end by telling them that the best way to help people with autism is to make a world where it is okay to be different. I tell them to be unique themselves, and I tell them to celebrate Jean Winegardner is a married, autistic mom to three delightfully neurodiverse sons. She lives with her family in Maryland and works as the office manager for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. She enjoys movies, reading, running, and small, amusing rodents. Zoom Autism Through Many Lenses 11