Exceptional Education at the Heart of the Community

Autism Acceptance Week 2024
Autism Acceptance Week 2024

You may have heard of Autism Awareness Week (or Autism Awareness Month) but have you noticed the name change?

In 2021, following feedback from autistic people and a large and very passionate social media movement, the National Autistic Society - who originally founded Autism Awareness Week in 2007 - relaunched the week as Autism Acceptance Week.

So, why the change from awareness to acceptance?

In response to Autism Awareness Week in 2020, feedback and the powerful social media movement gave voice to the autism community, many of whom felt this change was long overdue. Reasons being that autism is now widely known about (as there are currently around 700,000 people diagnosed with autism in the UK), so we have moved beyond needing to be aware of autism into learning how we can best accommodate autistic people in daily life.

The autism community are also acutely aware of the negative stereotypes or beliefs about autism and how it is often seen as something which needs to be ‘fixed’ or ‘cured’. A change from autism awareness to acceptance moves the focus from knowing what it is, to learning how autistic people see and interact with the world in a way that is different to, not less than, neurotypical people.

The BBC reported on the change from Autism Awareness Week to Autism Acceptance Week in a BBC short feature, as part of a series called ‘The Social’:An Autistic Person’s Take on Autism Awareness Week’ "Acceptance is more important than awareness."

Why are we more aware?

There has been a nearly 800% increase in the number of people diagnosed with autism from 1998 to 2018. This has caused much of the rise in awareness of autism in society, as there are just so many more people being diagnosed with autism, meaning that more and more people know, or know of, at least one autistic person in their lives. However, it is also true that this rise is because there is more awareness of autism and understanding of the condition in the medical profession, to enable more accurate diagnoses to be made.

How can I best help my neurotypical friends and colleagues understand my needs?

This comes down to holding open and honest conversations. You could try talking about:

  • Sensory difference – are there any sensory environments you find challenging? Lighting, sound etc?
  • Communication – what is your preferred method of communication? Do you prefer to converse in email, written information, graphics, sign language, telephone?
  • Social interaction – would you like a clear explanation of generally social interactions, e.g. who speaks during meetings, how lunchtimes are structured?
  • Structure – do you prefer a planned routine or self-determined flexibility to your working day?
  • Time and space – do you work best with long term deadlines or short tasks with tighter deadlines? Do you require quiet time and a quiet space to visit if you are overwhelmed?

How can we best support and include our autistic colleagues and friends?

It is often the small changes that mean the most.  Talk to the autistic person in your life, if they are up for it, or liaise with local autism self-advocacy networks to see how you can make things in your immediate environment autism friendly.  Use clear and concise language, communicate routine and timetable changes in advance and don’t assume that people know what you are thinking from your facial expressions alone.  And most importantly, understand that autistic people have different wants, opinions and requirements, so do not make assumptions based on their diagnosis or neurotype.  Remember that any kind of accommodation should come from discussion with the autistic person. There should be ‘nothing about me, without me’.  

#autismacceptanceweek #inclusion

Autism Acceptance Week 2024
Jemma Limbani