Autism Acceptance Month
By: Amy Marschall, PsyD
April is often referred to as “Autism Awareness Month,” a campaign founded and run by a certain so-called advocacy group that uses a puzzle piece logo. However, as the autism rights movement (also known as the autism liberation movement) has progressed, many autistic adults have pushed back on the idea that autism is a problem to be aware of and “fixed.”
It is important to note that every autistic person has different needs. While it is true that different neurotypes (such as autism) are not inherently inferior to those who fit into the neurotypical spectrum, it is also true that many autistic people are disabled. An autistic person who is disabled by sensory sensitivities and support needs is valid in their experience, as is an autistic person whose hyper-focus and analytical abilities are an asset. Many autistic people (including the author of this article) simultaneously fall into both of these categories.
Because many in the autistic community see autism as a neurotype, a fundamental part of who we are, the idea that autism should be “cured” or “fixed” is problematic and generally rejected by autistic adults. As such, there is a push to re-label autism awareness as Autism Acceptance Month.
The controversy around the autism puzzle piece and campaigns for “autism awareness” are well-documented. In particular, autistic people note that there is little evidence that these campaigns actually help any autistic people, and they do not represent the priorities put forth by the autistic community. In fact, the main organization behind the “autism awareness” movement has only one autistic member on their board, out of 28 board members.
Here are five organizations to support and promote during Autism Acceptance Month. Like any community, autistic people are not a monolith, so each has individual preferences and opinions about various autistic advocacy organizations. We have chosen to platform organizations run by and for the community, though no one organization fully represents every autistic experience.
AWNN is a non-profit organization that promotes disability justice, racial and gender equity, neurodiversity, trans liberation, and restorative justice. It offers a robust resource database, including educational information about autism by and for the autistic community, webinars, and welcome packets for autistic people and those who care for them. AWNN also created the Autistic People of Color Fund, a resource specifically for autistic BIPOC who need financial support.
In 2021, AWNN published Sincerely, Your Autistic Child, a memoir of autistic voices sharing what they wish their parents had known when they were growing up. The book serves as a guide to parents who want to be affirming and supportive of their autistic children.
Communication First is a civil rights organization that advocates for disabled people who struggle with or are unable to communicate through verbal speech. While they do not exclusively support the autistic community, non speaking autistic people or those who are only speaking some of the time benefit from Communication First.
Communication First has many amazing initiatives to help meet people’s communication needs, including pushing for Alternative and Augmented Communication (AAC) options. Historically, non speaking autistic people have been forced to undergo “therapies” that force them to use verbal speech even if this is intensely uncomfortable or difficult for them, or their inability to communicate verbally has been used as an excuse to deny their autonomy. Normalizing alternative forms of communication and making AAC devices more accessible gives a voice to those who have previously been denied one.
According to their website, Neurolastic is “a collective of Autistic people responsive to the evolving needs and trajectory of the Autistic community.” It publishes autistic stories so that community members can share their experiences and benefit from each other’s wisdom. While all autistic people are invited to contribute, Neuroclastic centers voices of autistic individuals of other marginalized identities, including BIPOC, trans, non speaking autistics, or those with comorbid disabilities.
Neuroclastic is primarily run by a group of autistic people but also platform neurodivergent voices that are not autistic, such as those with mental health diagnoses, ADHD, and other forms of neurodiversity.
The organization is run one hundred percent by volunteers and promotes many charitable initiatives.
ASAN is a non-profit organization by and for the autistic community. It conducts legal advocacy, education about autism, and support for autistic people. Much of ASAN’s work focuses on legal and policy change to improve the lives of autistic and other disabled people, as well as fighting for autism research that centers the needs and priorities of autistic people rather than the convenience of non-autistic people.
Like any group, autistic people are not a monolith, and individuals will have different opinions, values, and priorities. ASAN seeks to listen to trends in the autistic community. For example, approximately 80% of autistic adults report a preference for identity-first language (“autistic person”) over person-first language (“person with autism”), though the overwhelming majority of autistic research continues to use person-first language. ASAN helps to spread awareness of the community preference for identity-first language.
ASAN also raises awareness within the autistic community of concerns facing autistic people, such as the risks stemming from genetic research around autism.
Thriving Autistic is based in Ireland and provides global support to the autistic community through individual support and global human rights initiatives. It shares educational information about autism that reflects community values and standards as well as trainings for professionals who work with autistic people and want to be neurodiversity-affirming in their practice.
In addition, Thriving Autistic hosts the clinician directory, Neurodivergent Practitioners. While some people might be comfortable seeing a therapist, evaluator, or provider who does not share their neurodivergent identity, some would prefer to receive support from someone who has a similar lived experience. Neurodivergent Practitioners is a directory that allows providers to list their neurodivergent identities and connect with clients who share that identity. Listings are also free, so practitioners of any income level can be listed.
Whether you are autistic, love an autistic person, or want to support disability justice and the human rights of autistic people, these organizations can provide affirming educational information and support.