Autism Acceptance Month is recognized every year throughout April and promotes inclusion and acceptance. Autism Acceptance Month aims to break the stigma of people on the autism spectrum and shift the narrative from “awareness to acceptance.” We’ve invited Riley Cahill Camps (they/them), a member of the board of directors of accessABILITY Center for Independent Living, Inc., to share their perspective. Riley graduated from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), where they majored in Journalism – Public Relations.
Autism Acceptance Month always brings up complicated feelings in me. I’m a loud and proud autistic person, yet it’s a time when some of the efforts and attention make me want to hide in a hole. It’s the one period of time I want to mask as a matter of self-preservation.
I was diagnosed as a young child in the 1980s. Still, as I got older, my parents believed I had “grown out of” being autistic, which impacted my formative years – between this and undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), growing up was a traumatic experience of bullying, adults getting mad at me for what seemed like no reason. I wondered why I was so “weird” and “broken.” It wasn’t until my adult years that I realized and understood what autism meant. I had a childhood diagnosis but the life experience of someone older.
Not long ago, I saw a post about an idea called “Autism Appreciation.” It was billed as the next step forward in Autism Acceptance and intrigued me. The article was about taking what is known as April’s annual Autism Acceptance Month to Autism Appreciation. The idea is that instead of just merely accepting those of us who are autistic – which can be done with reluctance or ignorance – to instead appreciating our place in this world and how our autism shapes and forms our experiences.
Being autistic influences so much of my life. I like the things I like because of it. I wear the things I wear because of it. My gender and sexuality are what they are because of it. It’s a core part of my being. In addition, autism profoundly shapes my personality. I sit in the “hyper-empathetic” camp, and this guides my ethics and sense of justice. On the other hand, I’m creative and can solve problems easily. These are things I wouldn’t want to change about myself.
Of course, being autistic isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sensory overloads, emotional dysregulation, and the fallout of a communication style differing from a neurotypical society are a lot to bear. But this doesn’t mean I’m deficient – I merely function differently from others and live in a world that doesn’t accommodate it.
Autism Appreciation celebrates the autistic person and their impact on the world. Instead of accepting that we exist, it sets up a society that encourages us to live as our true selves. It’s also progressive and furthers us from the “awareness” mentality that is more widely socialized. It is an anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-queer- and transmisic philosophy that breaks down societal barriers to diagnosis, support, and living freely and peacefully. It appreciates that all autistic people, regardless of their support needs, have inherent value as human beings.
Acceptance can happen with reluctance, while appreciation begs for true understanding. Autistic Appreciation encourages society to honestly understand who we are, why we behave the way we do, and what can be done to accommodate us. It also celebrates what makes us unique and how we contribute positively to everyday life just by existing.
Autistic Appreciation will cultivate a society that encourages more accommodation, freedom, safety, and autistic joy. The comfort in being our true autistic selves shouldn’t be a privilege but a blessing. It’s the next step needed to get us beyond autism acceptance. So, let’s celebrate who autistic people are through appreciation.