How to Celebrate Autism Acceptance in 2024

A man and a woman sitting at an outdoor table, smiling and sharing a moment while looking at their smartphones

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability that affects behavior, speech, and social interaction. According to statistics, one in every 36 children in the United States is diagnosed with Autism.

Autism is being diagnosed more and more, not because there’s an epidemic, but because we now know more about how wide the spectrum is and how autism presents in women who are assigned female at birth.

But, despite the increase in autism awareness, there remains a lack of understanding and acceptance of autistic individuals.

What Is Autism Acceptance?

Autism acceptance is a movement that both promotes understanding and supporting autistic people. It’s the principle that autism is just a different way of being, not a lesser way of being.

Acceptance means treating autistic individuals with kindness and respect, just like we would treat everyone else. A person’s differences are a normal part of life; we can appreciate autistic people for who they are.

Instead of thinking of autism as something negative or needing to be fixed, we should celebrate the differences it brings. We should help autistic people to do the things they love and not limit them. 

Autism Acceptance vs. Autism Awareness

Now, is there a difference between autism acceptance and autism awareness? Yes! 

Autism awareness is knowledge-based. While autism awareness is important, it often focuses on the challenges that come with autism, and this, in turn, portrays autism in a negative light.

Autism awareness helps us understand what autism is, but it doesn’t always help us understand how autistic people feel or experience things.

Autism acceptance goes further. It’s about seeing that each autistic person is different. It’s like saying, “Hey, everyone is unique, and that’s okay!”

Why is Autism Acceptance Important?

Autism acceptance is important for several reasons:

  • It helps make our society more welcoming and understanding.
  • When we embrace neurodiversity and recognize the uniqueness of each autistic individual, we make it easier for them to be included and respected.
  • Autism acceptance can lead to better opportunities for autistic people to participate in the community and to contribute their talents.
  • By accepting autism, we challenge wrong ideas and stereotypes about it.
  • It helps take care of the mental health of an autistic person. When they feel accepted and understood, they are less likely to feel stressed or anxious.

In short, Autism Acceptance is essential for building a kinder, more welcoming world where everyone feels valued and supported.

Fostering Autism Acceptance in 2024

A lot has changed over the years when it comes to understanding autism. As a fellow autistic teacher who’s taught many autistic students and also has lived experience being autistic, I wanted to share with you some of what I’ve learned from other autistic adults.

Here’s a guide to what’s in and what’s out for celebrating autism acceptance in 2024.

What's In:

Identity-first language

Identity-first language acknowledges autism as an integral part of an individual’s identity rather than something separate. For example, instead of saying “person with autism,” we typically say “autistic person.” This approach is preferred by many autistic individuals as it doesn’t treat autism like a disease or disorder that they have. Instead, it’s an innate part of who they are. 

*Note that some people will prefer different language, so it’s always best to ask.

Symbolism

The gold or rainbow infinity sign has emerged as a symbol of autism acceptance and neurodiversity.

Listening to lived experiences

Autistic people offer valuable insights into their lived experiences, challenges, and strengths. Listen to autistic adults and children, especially people of color, nonspeaking/AAC users, and others with more diverse lived experiences.

Using the right terms

In 2024, the terms low-support needs, medium-support needs, and high-support needs are used.

Additionally, remember that support needs are dynamic and may fluctuate day to day.

Strengths-based language

Focusing on the strengths and abilities of autistic individuals helps to promote self-esteem, confidence, and a positive self-image. This can empower autistic individuals to reach their full potential.

Understanding that listening and learning look different with autism

The way an autistic person listens and learns may differ from neurotypical expectations. In this case, eye contact is not necessary, stimming or fidgeting should be allowed, as are movement and frequent breaks!

What's Out:

Person-first language

Using person-first language, such as “person with autism,” is often criticized by autistic individuals for suggesting that autism is separate from the person’s identity.

Outdated symbol

The puzzle pieces sign has been associated with autism for many years but has faced criticism for its implication that autistic individuals are incomplete or missing something. Moving away from this symbol promotes a more positive and respectful portrayal of autism.

Functioning labels

Functioning labels, such as “low-functioning” or “high-functioning,” can be stigmatizing. Instead of categorizing autistic individuals based on their perceived level of functioning, it’s important to recognize the diverse strengths and support needs of each person.

Hand-over-hand prompting

Hand-over-hand prompting involves physically guiding a person’s movements, often without their consent. This practice can be intrusive and disempowering, particularly for autistic individuals who may have sensory sensitivities or a need for autonomy.

This isn’t encouraged, but do note that there may be rare circumstances that this is needed.

Deficit-based language

Language that focuses on deficits or challenges faced by autistic individuals can suggest negative stereotypes and affect the person’s self-esteem.

Searching for a cure

The pursuit of a cure for autism is controversial and often opposed by autistic individuals and advocates.

Instead of viewing autism as a disorder in need of fixing, it’s important to embrace neurodiversity and focus on acceptance, accommodation, and support.

Planned ignoring

Planned ignoring involves ignoring certain behaviors or communication attempts on purpose. This can be dismissive and harmful, particularly for autistic individuals who may struggle to communicate their needs effectively.

Stopping stimming

Stimming, or self-stimulatory behavior, serves important functions for many autistic individuals, such as regulating emotions and sensory experiences. 

Suppressing or discouraging stimming can be harmful to an individual’s well-being so it should be avoided.

Earning breaks

Breaks are an accommodation and should be given as needed, not as a reward. Giving breaks regularly ensures that an autistic person has the opportunity to recharge and self-regulate as needed.

By keeping these things in mind, we help foster a society that embraces neurodiversity. However, remember that there are exceptions to all these rules, and an individual’s preference should always be honored when it comes to their own personal identity.

How to Celebrate Autism Acceptance

If you’re a Special Education Teacher like me, you have in your hands the power to campaign for this advocacy. You can spread the word about autism through autism awareness and help your students and other autistic individuals by practicing autism acceptance.

Teaching about autism awareness and acceptance is important, but it should be done with respect and sensitivity, especially if you have autistic students as well. To help you and your students learn more about autism acceptance, I’ve prepared some great resources for your lessons! You can find all of my autism resources here, or you can get this bundle of Autism Acceptance & Awareness lessons, activities, and posters!

It’s important to spread autism awareness and help practice autism acceptance, so here are even more resources to get you started.

  • FREE Autism Acceptance Awareness Lesson This is a no prep 10+ page Neurodiversity Affirming lesson on autism acceptance and awareness. You can present the lesson remotely or in person, and then test students’ knowledge at the end! This activity could be used with students in elementary school, middle school, high school or students of varying ages and special education backgrounds.
  • What Is Autism | Handouts & Activities – This contains four differentiated levels of activities, in printable social narrative format, on what it means to be autistic.

Final notes . . .

Accepting autistic individuals is important because it breaks stereotypes and it helps everyone feel included. When we understand that all brains work differently, we can make the world a kinder and more supportive place for everyone!