The controversies behind Autism Awareness Month and changing to Autism Acceptance Month

Madelyn Kidd, Copy Editior

For some, April is like any other month just with the addition of Easter. However, for many others April is the month all about bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorder. Firstly for those who don’t know, autism spectrum disorder is a condition affecting brain development which effects how a person socializes with others, and the disorder also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behavior. 

Over the decades, autism spectrum disorder, as a diagnosis, has changed rapidly. Before the 90s autism wasn’t even considered a spectrum disorder. Autism was originally believed to be caused by bad parenting. However, during this time an organization called The Autism Society, founded by Dr. Bernard Rimland who had an autistic son, began a nationwide autism awareness program in the early 70s to counteract those beliefs, which was adopted by Congress in 1984. Leading to the well-known autism ribbon being created in 1999.

Flashing forward to 2005, Autism Speaks was created and funded by Bob and Suzanne Wright, who have an autistic grandson. Autism Speaks quickly became one of the biggest autism awareness non-profit organizations in the world. The Wrights were able to create multiple popular autism awareness programs including World Autism Awareness Day, Light It Up Blue and The Power of One March. World Autism Awareness Day is April 2 and was adopted by the United Nations in 2007. Additionally, The Power of One March takes place on World Autism Awareness Day, and Light It Up Blue is an international program taking place on April 2 where well-known and popular buildings are lit in blue to raise autism awareness. 

Autism Awareness Month begins on World Autism Awareness Day in order to avoid April Fool’s Day. During the first day you will see people wearing blue shirts, homes and famous buildings lit with blue lights, and profile pictures with the autism puzzle piece icon. Throughout the month you’ll also see sensory friendly events, autism awareness events at schools and hospitals, and fundraising marches and events. 

However, there are many individuals in the autism community who don’t support or like Autism Awareness Month. This stems from the dislike for the organization who basically “owns” Autism Awareness Month, Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks is a controversial organization for those in the autism community because despite being a high-profile autism awareness organization, they have caused multiple problems and issues for those in the community. Autism Speaks rarely has anyone on the autism spectrum on the board, and those few individuals who did get on the board, were very high functioning and they never stayed on the board for long. 

Another issue is that Autism Speaks advocates for “curing” autistic individuals rather than helping the world understand and be more accepting. Also, due to the Wright’s daughter believing her son became autistic through vaccinations, Autism Speaks has donated a lot of money into research that vaccines cause autism. Additionally, most resources Autism Speaks provide is actually intended for an autistic individual’s families and parents rather than the individual themselves.

In 2011, to separate the autism community from the idea that there needs to be a cure for autism and rather respecting autistic individuals, many autism advocacy groups created Autism Acceptance Month. According to the Autism Acceptance Month website, “During Autism Acceptance Month, we focus on sharing positive, respectful and accurate information about autism and autistic people. Autism Acceptance Month promotes acceptance and celebration of autistic people as family members, friends, classmates, co-workers and community members making valuable contributions to our world. Autism is a natural variation of the human experience, and we can all create a world which values, includes and celebrates all kinds of minds. In a nutshell, Autism Acceptance Month is about treating autistic people with respect, listening to what we have to say about ourselves and making us welcome in the world.”

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