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Autism Awareness Month

By Alexa Marvroidis 

April is Autism Awareness Month and April 2 is Autism Awareness Day. I am not myself autistic, but I have had the privilege of serving as a peer mentor to many people of all ages on the spectrum, helping with everything from practice for a first job interview to helping people learn how to take care of the daily chores and tasks they need to do to live on their own. I can think of few moments in my career at ECNV more fulfilling than seeing someone learn a skill they felt worried they might never figure out or seeing them begin to discover ideas and solutions on their own that they felt too overwhelmed to notice before.
It's important for people who are not autistic, whether we're providing support or mentoring or just being family members or friends, to know that the autistic community has created a thriving sub-community of advocacy and mutual support within the disability community. While many groups encourage awareness of and research into what autism is and how it affects people, it's of paramount importance to listen to and understand the voices of people who live with this disability and to try to understand their needs as they experience them.
In fact, groups like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network proclaim the month of April not to be merely Autism Awareness Month, but Autism Acceptance month: They work to ensure that their own voices are heard within the national conversation by encouraging organizers of events to be sure to include autistic presenters and participants, as the experts on their own lives.
As a staff person at a Center for Independent Living, this outlook is familiar to me, and one that I value and welcome. Disability affects our lives in many ways, and sometimes can make things difficult or impossible. But for decades now the community has fought to ensure that there is “nothing about us without us”—that we know our own lives best and that we must be included in any social planning or understanding.
I hope that, when any of us undertake to become more aware of autism and how it affects our friends, family members, peers, and colleagues, we remember to consider not just lists of symptoms or behaviors, but the perspectives of those who live with this disability and their understanding of it and its effect on their lives. And that we remember that, ultimately, the point of awareness is to better understand and accept those around us, including those who may not think or live exactly as we do.