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From ‘awareness’ to ‘understanding and acceptance’ by Thomas Kuzma

17 March 2022

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Did you hear the news? World Autism Awareness Day is now World Autism Understanding Day! Ya’ll are probably wondering, why the name change? Well, it’s pretty obvious; the vast majority of our society have heard of autism. The ‘Awareness’ we have raised, has been widely successful, and it’s totally awesome to know that more people know about autism! So “Why the change?” Well let me break it down for you.

To start us off, back in 2015, The National Autistic Society in England conducted a survey to see how much their country had heard about autism and how much they knew.

In 2015 the National Autism Society (NAS) carried out a YouGov poll and found that over 99% of people in the UK had heard of Autism, BUT only 16% of Autistic people and their families think the public understand autism in any meaningful way.

As you can see, even seven years ago nearly everyone knew about autism but only 16% of the population understood autism in a meaningful way. It’s okay to just know that autism exists, but if you really want to help people like me become more accepted in society, then you need to start with understanding.

So here is why I feel it’s important for us to move from ‘awareness’ to ‘understanding and acceptance’.

Having grown up in a world that hardly knew about Autism, it was difficult to find my identity, and to be accepted for who I was. It wasn’t until I discovered people who wanted to take the time to get to know me, to understand me, that I started feeling like a human being.

Imagine going through your life not understanding a major part of yourself? This is what many Autistic people face. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Working with a Autistic teenagers today in my mentor role, I see them going through similar issues. The schools they go to are aware that these teens have autism, but lack any understanding of how autism affects their brain, their social behaviors or their senses. They don’t take the time to understand, they are quick to lump all Autistic people into the same basket.

Identity is an important facet of many Autistic people’s lives. The people we socialise with, the tasks we do, everything requires meaning, and many students have come to me asking about what it means to be Autistic. Imagine going through your life not understanding a major part of yourself? This is what many Autistic people face. It doesn’t have to be this way!

When non-Autistic people take the time to stop and ask questions, instead of jumping to judgements, we can start communicating about how our individual Autistic traits affect us, and why we do certain actions. People forget just how big a role communication plays in building understanding, and because autism is such an individualized condition, we need to be able to communicate in our own way.

What I want to see people doing this World Autism Understanding Day is taking the time to communicate with Autistic people in their community. Understand us, and learn why we need to do things, then you will be able to accept us for who we really are.

I am going to end this with a romantic story. I have been in a healthy relationship with a wonderful woman I’ll call Buffy. Buffy is mischievous, patient, loving and caring. What has separated my relationship with her, from some of the harsher relationships I have had in the past, is the patience and understanding, we have both achieved through communication.

For many Autistic people, like me, we don’t feel like we have that many people around us who actually try to see past the autism, to understand them as they are. When more people allow Autistic people to be themselves, and help us understand what it means to be our best selves, then we can truly grow as a highly neurodiverse society.

Happy World Autism Understanding Day!

#LifeOnTheAutismSpectrum

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