It is not uncommon for neurological and psychological differences to be pushed forward as something to be “aware of.” There are many differences that have become more prominent today and have assigned symbols, days, colors, and phrases as a sign of “awareness.”
When it comes to Autism, the Autism Awareness Month, blue-colored ribbons and puzzle blocks t-shirts have become the gold standard for raising awareness.
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However, it doesn’t do as much as it may look. Awareness is all about letting people know that something uncommon exists. It is not about education, inclusion, or acceptance.
On the other hand, Acceptance is all about making affected individuals feel at home, not just highlighted. It involves creating a sense of inclusion in the society where people welcome, involve, and make way for autistic people to participate fully.
It is also about going beyond awareness by highlighting the unique strengths, challenges, and needs of affected individuals, rather than stating obvious facts. It involves going beyond statistics that calculate the number of affected individuals, the subtypes of the disorder, and the age of people affected.
In the end, such educational efforts only outline the disorder and summarize the basic facts. This still leaves a huge gap in making a disorder or difference more understandable.
What Is The Difference Between Acceptance And Awareness? Acceptance Vs. Awareness
Anybody can be made aware with social media posts, vibrant banners, marches, and organizational efforts. While these are equally important and play a huge role in making the lives of individuals with Autism easier, their impact is still limited.
Acceptance is about breaking the stereotypes related to Autism and convincing people to involve individuals with Autism in their activities.
It is about looking for commonalities and strengths rather than differences. Awareness can have a counterintuitive impact where people may believe that affected individuals are somehow lacking, incompetent, and can’t do the same things as others.
Acceptance comes when these misconceptions are eliminated by in-depth education. Under Acceptance, affected individuals are seen as normal, healthy members of society that can be as productive, successful, and friendly as everyone else. It aims to eliminate any stigma, prejudice, or avoidance that is directed toward individuals with Autism.
One affected child said: “Autism isn’t a disease that people should be made aware about. It’s a difference that society should accommodate.” Acceptance is harder to achieve because of the efforts and changes to perception it requires.
Awareness can unknowingly make people more divided and create dislike for affected individuals. It can do this by highlighting the differences too excessively or presenting the affected as a mere subgroup in the population.
Awareness can sound like “This subgroup must be welcomed and tolerated,” whereas, Acceptance says, “We are the same, but with unique challenges”. Acceptance can make the world much easier to navigate for every impacted individual without making them feel like a burden on anyone.
With Acceptance, people engage, live, and work with affected individuals because they see nothing wrong with them. They create room for them to grow and ensure they are comfortable in the social setting without making them feel like outsiders.
One of the most prominent differences can be explained by two simple things; communicating and taking action.
Awareness focuses on communicating the disorder horizontally, thereby stating every possible difference and challenge present. Acceptance focuses on a vertical approach where every difference is met with an attempt to minimize the problems it creates in the lives of affected people.
Acceptance involves taking action, sincerely engaging with the affected people, and not excluding them from a party, a project, a trip, or another activity.
People who are aware of Autism will, at best, know what it is. People who are accepting of it will take action to make Autism an easier thing to deal with.
Acceptance Can Come In Many Shapes; Some Of These Include:
- Encouraging affected people to take part in different activities.
- Telling your children to make friends with their autistic classmates.
- Going the extra mile to help and support someone with Autism.
- Putting in the effort to make them feel comfortable.
- Letting them do things their own way and not be judgmental.
- Not cutting ties with them because of their differences.
- Being patient when they have emotional or interpersonal challenges with you.
Shifting From Awareness To Acceptance
April has been popularized as the “Autism Awareness Month” in many countries, especially the United States. This was created to bring more awareness, education, and support to autistic individuals.
The month and other awareness campaigns together have pushed organizations, schools, and therapies to become more sensitive to the needs of Autistic people and their families.
However, as the community grew, people became more educated, and affected people became more vocal about their challenges, and the need for better language was also realized. Now the autism community is calling for more careful use of words when carrying out autism-related campaigns and activities. They believe that words can have a huge impact that should be leveraged to bring better-quality change.
Moving from Awareness to Acceptance is helping people redirect the focus from stating facts to taking action. It is pushing communities, organizations, and NGOs to focus on creating a sustainable support system where affected people can enjoy the same education, opportunities, and employment as everyone else.
CEO of the Autism Society of America, Christopher Banks, says that the biggest issue facing autistic individuals and their families in finding a strong support system is lack of Acceptance. Creating more Acceptance will ultimately create more practical campaigns and activities that provide long-term support that can make a difference.
Multiple prominent autism communities and organizations now use the term “Acceptance” instead of “Awareness”. Some of these include Administration for Community Living, Autistic Women and Non-Binary Network, First Place AZ, Easter Seals, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, and The Arc.
Another gap that remains includes official government designation. Neither Autism Awareness Month nor Autism Acceptance month has been recognized by the government as official awareness months. The Autism Society of America aims to change this and make “Autism Acceptance Month” officially designated.
People with Autism and their families just want to be heard, accepted, and understood. Not just by their community but also the schools, workplaces, healthcare providers, tutors, and therapists.
Being judged or excluded never comes without emotional pain and can lead to lower self-esteem, confidence, and a negative outlook on life. It’s important to start focusing on taking action with Acceptance so every affected individual can maximize the opportunities and experiences in their life. No one should have to wait or work hard to find a helpful community that lifts them up, a supportive learning environment, or a life-changing diagnosis.
A simple language change can bring in these pivotal outcomes where “differences” do not become synonymous with “difficulties”.
While we do all that, it’s important not to take away the credit from awareness efforts. Despite so many people living with Autism, the majority of the population still remains oblivious to its existence.
These can have huge consequences. Unawareness can lead to the condition going undetected, being mistaken for another disorder, and damaged self-esteem in the affected person.
Awareness and Acceptance are not mutually exclusive but complement each other’s unique goals. These two must work in conjunction to bring about a holistic change that enables a more integrative and supportive environment for autistic people.
Hi. This is me Hira Naz. I am becoming a clinical psychologist. I am done with my majors and doing some diplomas to pursue my career in counseling. Along with Psychology, I am pursuing my passion for writing. I have been a freelance writer for the past 5 years. Currently, I am writing for this site and providing all the necessary insights to help and advise the elderly and disabled.