Calling for autism acceptance

Awareness is an essential part of ensuring autistic people get the support they need, but acceptance can hold greater importance, allowing people to feel like they belong in their communities.

It is estimated that one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum with around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Most people around the country will recognise the word autism, but not many have a true understanding of what it means or how to support people on the spectrum. That’s why events like World Autism Acceptance Week and World Autism Awareness Day, taking place on 2 April, are so important.

This comes down to the very names given to the day and a move away from talking about raising awareness of autism. World Autism Acceptance Week takes place from 28 March to 3 April 2022.

Acceptance

“In April we do a lot of awareness raising, teaching people about what autism is and making sure that autistic people feel more accepted,” explains Chloe Jones, a fundraising officer at Autism Together. The organisation extends celebrations and events for the week to a whole month, marking April as Autism Acceptance Month.

In earlier years, awareness has been the main focus of the events, but now organisations including Autism Together and the National Autistic Society are making a change and asking for acceptance.

“It’s all about listening to autistic people and being conscious of how we approach the subject,” insists Chloe. “We’ve been listening and training for years and what people want is acceptance.

“We’ve tried to raise awareness and we have, now it’s about all being accepted into society, accepting people for who they are and not just having people be aware, we want more than that.”

Autism is an extremely unique diagnosis: each individual has a different experience with the condition affecting their daily life in various ways. This can also mean that it is difficult to get a diagnosis, especially for girls and women.

“There’s a big difference now between acceptance and awareness,” expresses Yvonne Smith, part of the training team at Autism Together. “It’s so important because autistic people are everywhere, more and more people are getting diagnosed, especially later in life.

“Unfortunately, through history there hasn’t been much progression in acceptance of autism and I hope we’re now in a place where we can move forward in a much more positive way.”

Without acceptance, people can feel left out or different, sometimes having a long-term effect on confidence, self esteem and mental health.

“If you’re bullied for being who you are or you’re left out for being who you are, if you’re not supported in the way that you need it will strike badly on your mental health, so acceptance is crucial,” adds Yvonne.

Get involved

To increase acceptance in society, the organisation is putting on a series of interactive events not just during World Autism Acceptance Week, but throughout the full month of April. One of these projects will take place at the Trafford Centre in Manchester, the third largest shopping centre in the UK.

“There will be pictures of people and you can scan the QR codes alongside them then that person will come to life on your phone and tell you how they are affected by this, you can get a closer look at difficulties they may face if they go into supermarkets and shopping centres,” reveals Chloe.

Autism Together are also running a Get Active for Autism challenge throughout the month, encouraging people to sign up and walk, run, cycle or swim 54 miles during April to raise just £54.

“The reason we’ve chosen 54 is because that will be our charity’s birthday this year in November,” explains Chloe. “It’s something everyone can take part in just as spring is coming and you want to get outside, but you’re also ensuring acceptance, you’re doing this to fundraise and help improve services for autistic people.”

Training

Increasing acceptance with the general public is essential, but this also has to extend into businesses and schools with bespoke training. Autism Together has worked to train staff in major retailers, banks, criminal prosecution services, emergency services and more on autism acceptance.

“We cover a brief overview of autism but there’s always a disclaimer to ensure that people understand that everyone is unique just like autism is, so we try and dispel some of the myths that still exist,” offers Yvonne. “We look at how people experience sensory things differently and the significance of this on their lives, how we can help each other to communicate.”

This understanding is also important in schools, with many resources being developed especially for education settings for use during Autism Acceptance Month.

“A lot of needs can be masked and so people don’t always get the support they need to really flourish,” explains Michelle Walklett who also works in the training team at the organisation. “Our resources for schools in April will include a free, pre-recorded assembly to try and get more acceptance at every level.

“It’s going to help teachers to support people and to support children in their class who are on the spectrum or if they are waiting for a diagnosis.”

With a push for greater training and education not just for businesses and schools but the wider public, events like this can help people in the autistic community feel accepted.

Find resources around Autism Acceptance Week from Autism Together and the National Autistic Society.

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