By Robert Shmus
As many of you know, the month of April is Autism Awareness Month, but I think each day of the year we should focus on autism acceptance. Shifting the focus from awareness to acceptance takes a proactive change in advocacy.
A little history first.
In the past, much of April solely focused on “the awareness” of how being on the spectrum was seen as somewhat of a curse. We’ve all seen the ads from organizations (especially one organization). in particular (not naming names), autism was seen as a disease and a tragedy; how families and futures were ruined by an autism diagnosis. All these ads needed was a sad Sarah McLaughlin song. They were dead-on tearjerkers.
In the past we rarely saw the success stories of those of us on the autism spectrum. Rarely did we hear of those who have gone on to make a name for themselves in their chosen profession. Nor did we hear of how the interests of those on the spectrum have led them to them becoming leaders and role models.
Now don’t get me wrong. As someone on the spectrum myself, there have been many things I had to struggle with. However, with rigor and ambition, I have been able to navigate through many obstacles. Others on the spectrum, no matter where they land on that spectrum, have done the same. Our voices have been ignored or, even worse, silenced.
This needs to change.
We need to show the world we are not a tragedy. We must show we are human beings with careers; that we can take accountability for our actions and can make our own decisions. Although we need help or support, we can go above and beyond.
We must become advocates for ourselves so our community can thrive.
For those who are not on the spectrum but have supported us, I thank you. We do accept your assistance. However, make sure that when those of the spectrum are ready, that you give them the chance to advocate for themselves.
We must show the world we are human beings too. This isn’t an easy fight, but to better ourselves, we must take a stance to advocate what we need to better our lives. Whether it be employment, education, healthcare, behavioral health or social skills, we must have our voices heard.
I know there has been division in the autism community. We must put our disagreements aside so we unite as one for us to succeed. Divided we are weak, but united we are strong.
In conclusion, I leave you with this. Instead of only awareness being the focus in April, let us autism acceptance be the focus every day of the year.
It is only through acceptance that progress can be made.
Robert Schmus is 30 years old. He resides in southern New Jersey outside of Philadelphia. He currently works as a licensed social worker at a residential house for adolescents with developmental disabilities. He helps the youth who are going through crisis to maintain stability. He does this through individual and group counseling, in which he educates them on utilizing coping skills. Being on the spectrum himself, he is also a self-advocate and advocate for adults, who are on the autism spectrum. He has been part of numerous advisory boards and has done public speaking events. Robert currently has an LCSW license and is working on also becoming a motivational speaker. He can be reached at +1-609-280-7863 and/or firstname.lastname@example.org.