Autism Acceptance and Autism Acceptance Month

Foreword: This is written from the perspective of someone who is autistic, and the experiences in this article may not be the same experience of everyone who is autistic.

Source: Creative Commons

Source: Creative Commons

Atlas Anderson, Reporter

In just a few months, we will be in the month of April. April is Autism Acceptance Month, which is important for many in the autistic community, as autistic experiences are not well known or accepted by those who are allistic (not autistic) or neurotypical. Autism Acceptance Month is a time for those who may not know much about autism and other neurodiversities to do research and talk to people in the community.

Language around autism can be confusing and multifaceted. Some terms are outdated and offensive, or can be the wrong way to describe someone. The r-slur and “aspie” are offensive, due to their history and connotation. Saying a “person with autism” can be linguistically correct, but saying “autistic person” is more accepted by many autistic people. The person is not completely separated from their autism, in a way that could be cured, such as “a person with liver/heart/etc. disease.” “Allistic” and “neurotypical” can be used to describe someone who isn’t autistic or who isn’t neurodivergent.

Autism is a spectrum, and everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum, and no experience is the same. Autism isn’t a “bad” disorder, despite what some people seem to think. Those who are autistic can see the world in a different way, not typically physically see, but can be more creative and talented than some neurotypical peers. Although not everyone’s the same, and no experience is the same, autistic people can be some of the most creative people. Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokemon, is autistic. Pokemon was born from his love of collecting insects, and anime. Kodi Less, a blind piano player with autism, won the 14th season of America’s Got Talent.

Although autism isn’t a completely good or bad disability, outside experiences can affect how someone acts or is treated.

School can be a stressful environment, and even more so for those who are autistic. Sensory overloads are when the brain receives too much information, such as sounds, lights, smells, emotions, texture, etc. Sensory overloads can be overwhelming and lead to meltdowns and shutdowns. And while sensory overloads are not exclusive to autism, it is extremely common for those with autism to be affected by it.

Autistic people also find certain social situations difficult. In certain cases, they are unable to recognize the unspoken “rules” set by society. Many deal with problems with eye contact, finding it uncomfortable, or even painful. Non-verbal communication can be a struggle and can be misinterpreted.

Many people deal with the school environment differently. School is a stressful environment, no matter who the student is. Autistic students may have more problems than their peers. “It can be hard to focus and keep up with assignments, and to pay attention in class,” a student who wishes to remain anonymous said. Students can treat autistic students differently, and may not even know what they are saying is inappropriate. “I hear students using the r-word, and it’s really uncomfortable,” the student said. When asked what they would like other students to know, one student said, “People should know that it’s not a bad thing. We’re just students.”

Lodi High School has six special education teachers, who help students with disabilities and provide accommodations. “We support students with an individual education plan based on their specific needs,” Ms. Moldenhauer said. “It could be academic; it could be a lot with social emotions. You’ll find here in the school Mrs. Mack, who’s a speech and language therapist–she works a lot with the social skills aspect.” LHS’s special ed teachers work with students with physical and mental disabilities, working with the other teachers and the school board to support students. “It’s kind of like an umbrella. You have all different kinds of disabilities; some are able to work independently on their own, where others need a little bit more assistance.” Autistic students and other students with disabilities can be often excluded by their peers. “It would be really neat to really get to know the students that we have in the school, and not necessarily just the students who may be on the autism spectrum,” Ms. Moldenhauer said. “If you have the opportunity to get to know that person, you would have a different understanding.”

And students do not treat those with autism with the same respect as their neurotypical classmates. One of the main examples seen in Lodi High School is students’ use of the r-slur. Students will call their friends this slur or casually drop it into the conversation. The r-slur is something historically that people with neurodivergence would be diagnosed with, before doctors and professionals became more knowledgeable about neurodivergence. It was used to said that those with mental disabilities were stupid and incapable. The use of this word is demeaning and dehumanizing. Slurs are used against a specific community in a discriminatory way, and the r-slur is just that. Or some students will treat autistic students differently in other ways, such as making fun of or insulting them based on how they act, and it’s not just in person. On social media sites like TikTok, videos are spread around talking about the “weird kid,” the “band kid,” the “theater kid,” and many others. While not all are expressly talking about autistic or neurodivergent peers, a lot of them spread the message that students who act like that are “weird,” or “cringey,” and insult the students.

Other words that are used can have negative meanings and history behind them. Many people have heard the term Asperger’s as another term for autism, and the shortened “aspie” is also used by certain groups to describe people with Asperger syndrome. In recent years, it has been widely accepted that Asperger’s is the same as autism. And the community is leaning away from this and attempting to discourage the use of the word, due to Hans Asperger being a Nazi, coining the term, and using it to describe autistic children, the ones he considered high-functioning enough to live and work.

Sometimes, when people want to help the community, they can do more harm than good. Many people know of the charity Autism Speaks, but very few know that it acts more like an autism hate group. Many of the messages Autism Speaks preaches are harmful, and in some cases can cause serious injury or death. One of their goals is to “find a cure” for autism, which includes testing unborn children for autism and stopping the pregnancy before they are born. They have fear-mongering messages, which say, “I am autism. I will ruin your marriage, and steal your money,” and showing a mother saying she wanted to drive herself and her child off a bridge because her child is autistic, which she says while the child is in the room. Autism Speaks is one of the bigger anti-vax movements and is almost entirely responsible for promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism, which countless studies and scientists have fully denied and proven to not be true.

Autism Speaks is one of the biggest autism charities, and is what many people will think of when they think of autism charities. And they have messages and symbols that many people will recognize more often than those that the community chooses. The puzzle piece is one of their symbols but isn’t widely accepted by the community, as it can symbolize that there is a piece missing. One of the accepted symbols is the rainbow infinity symbol or the gold infinity symbol. The rainbow infinity can represent the wide and varied spectrum of neurodivergent people.

Even with Autism Speaks’ reach, those who wish to donate or educate themselves can donate or look into ASAN. ASAN, or Autistic Self Advocacy Network, is run by and for autistic people. ASAN is a non-profit organization that works to make society more inclusive for autistic people. This includes legal advocacy, educational resources, advocacy tools, leadership training, and more.

Within media, books, shows, and movies, autistic characters are presented. Certain characterizations are better than others, and some that people may consider a good representation of an autistic character may be a harmful stereotype. Within the real world, you may already know where and why something exists. Nearly everyone knows what the Pokémon franchise is, but many might not know who created it and that he is autistic himself. Satoshi Tajiri created Pokémon because of his special interest in bugs and video games.

An example of good representation in media is Lilo from Lilo and Stitch. While she may not be canonically autistic, many people in the community relate to and consider her autistic. In the movie, Lilo says that she has trouble getting along with other kids, and she doesn’t understand why people don’t understand her. When it comes to her emotions, she has a hard time expressing and controlling them, and she doesn’t know why. In the She-ra reboot, it is confirmed by the show’s creator, Nate. D. Stevenson, that Entrapta is autistic. In the show, it is shown and said that she gets along with her tech better than she does with people and she doesn’t always understand the feelings of those around her. “I’m not good at people. But I am good at tech. I thought, maybe, if I could use tech to help you, you’d like me. But I messed that up too,” she says in season 5 episode 2, “Lauch.” Many see themselves in her experiences, relating to not understanding others.

There are many depictions of autistic characters in live-action TV shows, but some are done better than others. Abed from Community is an example of good representation. Abed is widely accepted by the community to be one of the better, if not one of the best, representations of autism in live-action media. Billy Cranston is another good depiction, being from the Power Rangers 2017 movie. He doesn’t understand jokes or sarcasm, but he can remember things in the letter. He is anxious around new and overwhelming situations, a trait shared by many autistic individuals. Plenty of shows that depict an autistic character have less accepted depictions.

One of these characters is Shawn Murphy, the main character of the show The Good Doctor. While he isn’t the worst depiction, he fits into something which could be called the “model minority.” In the show, he is one of the best doctors and is more intelligent in some fields than his fellow doctors. While the struggles he goes through in the show are things autistic people face, the show inadvertently spreads a harmful message. While some people may fit into the model of “autistic genius,” many do not, and the “genius” stereotype can be harmful by setting up unrealistic expectations and ideas.

And some people have sought to represent autism in films, although some have done the opposite. The 2021 film by Sia, titled Music, is about a newly-sober drug dealer learning to care for her autistic sister. Throughout the movie when the character Music has a meltdown or becomes overwhelmed, they portray the actors physically restraining her on the ground, which can be dangerous and even cause death. If someone is having a meltdown, it can sometimes be dangerous.

Sia went wrong with the movie before filming had hardly started. She had hired an autistic actress to play the character Music, but found it too difficult to work with her and thought the set and filming would be too dangerous for her. Instead of providing accommodations for her, she hired another actress, who was not autistic, to play an autistic character. Once the movie was released, it received massive backlash from the autistic community and others. ASAN, AASR, and CommunicationFIRST declared the movie’s restraint scenes to be dangerous and called for Sia to cancel the film.

Even with the negative depictions of autism in media, there are many that are good depictions and are widely beloved by the community, if you know where to look.

Autism Acceptance Month is important to all members of the community. While generally known as Autism “Awareness” Month, “Acceptance” fits just as well. Autism is a wide spectrum, and not everything could be included within this article, and not everything may be fully accurate. Students and teachers are encouraged to do their own research and listen to autistic students or peers to better understand their own perception and get to know how to accept autistic students.