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Redefining Autism Acceptance: Embracing Acceptance Every Day

The term autism was coined in the early 20th century by a German psychiatrist. In the immediate years that followed, it was little known — and even less understood. As time went on, the definition evolved until it became something that more closely reflects what we recognize as autism today.

In the ‘80s, with diagnoses increasing along with public awareness of the condition, President Ronald Reagan issued a presidential proclamation designating April as National Autism Awareness Month in 1988. This marked a pivotal moment, signifying advancement in the public consciousness of autism and opening the door for people with autism to lead more enriched and fulfilling lives.

The term “awareness” made sense at the time. Many people still had little understanding of autism; their perceptions were sometimes clouded by stereotypes and misinformation. But awareness can only do so much. Today, progress has been made in the ongoing effort to facilitate understanding due in part to increased accessibility of information. Thus, a new term is taking precedence over awareness: acceptance.

In 2021, the Autism Society of America recommended using Autism Acceptance Month instead of Autism Awareness Month. As the organization’s CEO put it, awareness is knowing someone has autism, while acceptance is including that person in activities and within the community. I have seen firsthand what a lack of inclusion looks like through the experience of having a sibling with autism. It is easy for some to feel as if they are doing “enough” by simply acknowledging and understanding that someone is autistic. Acceptance takes it a step further.

This conversation is especially relevant in the workplace, where diversity strengthens teams and inclusion ensures all perspectives are considered. It also reflects our core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, compassion, and collaboration.

So, how can we foster acceptance of autism in the workplace? According to Patrick Bardsley, co-founder and CEO of Spectrum Designs Foundation, there are several steps individuals and organizations can take.

  1. Seek the input of people with autism, especially when creating policies that directly impact them.
  2. Educate yourself and others in the workplace about autism and the strengths and challenges of people who have it.
  3. Create an inclusive environment that is accommodating to the unique needs of people with autism so they have an equitable chance to succeed.
  4. Collaborate with autism organizations that can provide vetted information and valuable insight regarding company policies and more.
  5. Foster inclusivity in the workplace by recognizing and intentionally celebrating differences.

Ultimately, acceptance is not possible without awareness. Both are key components in the journey of making those with autism feel included and heard. It is also important to note that this sentiment extends beyond our fellow employees and applies to anyone we come into contact with through our work at Colorado Access and daily life.

When I reflect on the experiences I’ve had through the lens of my brother’s journey as a person with autism navigating the world, I can see the progress that has been made. It is an encouraging reminder to continue that momentum and continue making the world a more accepting place.