The month of April is now over, and with it an overstuffed ensemble of competing colors, puzzle pieces, symbols, fundraisers for bloated organizations supposedly serving the suffering masses, those persons supposedly reeling from the condition of autism.
Like the aftermath of some human-stoked windstorm of desperation for being aware of the plight of millions of the misunderstood, we look across the landscape of the empty fury of “Autism Awareness Month” and find ourselves richer in memes, catchy slogans, extra t‑shirts to line our drawers– but somehow poorer than ever in actually coming to terms with the deeper knowing of our fellow human persons.
In my mind’s eye, I can see her. The young girl, standing there in the midst of this so-called Autism Awareness Month. Unbridled in her passion, in her purpose, not compartmentalized as an “autistic person,” though she is, but rather as a fully human person. Engaging her unique mind, her steely will in what Herman Hesse might call, “to give battle to chaos,” Greta Thunberg stood before lawmakers, the media, the watching world and asked us– as caretakers of planet Earth, to not destroy ourselves.
So, why would an autistic teenage climate activist command my thoughts when it comes to Autism Awareness Month? Because in her very personhood, she represents why we should all close our Autism Awareness Mouths, and move confidently into a new age of autism acceptance.
You see, young Greta is beyond her own awareness of her autism, as we should all be. In fact, she sees her autistic mind as a fulcrum to move the mountain of climate change denial, her autism is fully integrated into her personhood, proudly displayed for all the world to see. To some, and they showed themselves clearly, it is her autism they see and not the shining intensity of willpower behind her eyes.
Match the culturally-projected pity of seeing an autistic girl with the singular determination of Atlas, a small girl attempting to lift the future of the world upon her own slender shoulders, and we are driven to divergence of awareness from acceptance. We simply cannot embrace both when we see the young warrior Greta with quiet fury, standing up in the face of power wrapped in ignorance.
Of course, there will be many more Autism Awareness Months to come. Halting the juggernaut of well-meaning, but ultimately useless marches, fundraisers, blue colored puzzle pieces adorning everything from clothing to skin would be a Herculean task, especially when there are mountains of money to be made off such pursuits. It doesn’t really matter anyway. While future proclamations will be made, the writing on the wall has now come to life.
Around the world, in every place, autistic persons– and their true allies, are now rising up to claim their rightful place of recognition in history, and in the future of our culture. From the notice of a Viennese pediatrician named Asperger, to the world stage where an autistic teenager commands the attention of millions, and inventors, scientists, and medical doctors now openly admit they are autistic– the time of awareness has ended and the time for full acceptance is upon us.
Is this to say autism (ASD) should no longer be considered a “disability”? Of course autism is a disability. In addition to some autistic persons facing the challenges of co-occurring medical and developmental conditions, the reality is the world autistic persons must navigate every day is one which is stacked against them in nearly every way.
How do I know this?
Each and every day of the week, I serve to guide autistic adults who face often-insurmountable entanglements of social conformity expectations, workplace environments, and impossible relationship standards which keep them severely anxious, depressed, disconnected, unemployed, and ultimately with a suicide rate many, many times the horrid national average.
Remove all the backwards processes and ableist mindsets and change the narrative from “us and them” to “all of us human persons,” and we will see no more need for disability awareness. We will all belong.
What would a transformed landscape for autistic and other disabled persons look like? What would changing the narrative, seeing everyone step forward to do whatever it takes to “level the playing field” for all mean?
Well, for one– I’d be out of a job. My organization would no longer be needed. And you want to know something? Personally, I’d celebrate, I’d dance in the streets with uncontainable joy.
Autism Awareness Month is over. And it is over forever.
Until next year, until the consciousness, the compassion and understanding of all non-autistic persons is fully engaged, we will still go on with the motions. But the heart of the culture is awakening to accepting autistic persons as fully human, and there’s no turning back now.
We are all, regardless of mind or body, fully human persons with unique stories of our own in the big book of humanity.