Why Words Matter: Things to Know for National Autism Acceptance Month

Since 1970, April has been known as National Autism Awareness Month. However, the American Autism Society (ASA) revised the name of the celebration to National Autism Acceptance Month in 2021. Here is why this small change is so important: 

What is Autism?  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism affects an estimated one in 44 children in the United States. Formally known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), autism is a developmental disability characterized by a broad range of cognitive and behavioral conditions. As a spectrum disorder, autism impacts people not only in different ways but to varying degrees. Each person with autism learns, thinks and communicates differently, manifesting in a distinct set of strengths and challenges. While some people with ASD can live independently, others require significant daily assistance.   

The Journey from Awareness to Acceptance 

As a widely varying disorder, conscious efforts have been made to include and celebrate people who differ from neurotypical individuals. This increased awareness has been a crucial step in sparking change in the way those with autism and their loved ones are perceived. "Awareness is knowing that somebody has autism," said Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America. "Acceptance is when you include (a person with autism) in your activities. Help (them) to develop in that community and get that sense of connection to other people." 

Embracing this shift in perspective is a necessary step toward igniting meaningful dialogue around autism. “While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life,” said Banks. “As many individuals and families affected by autism know, acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.” 

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