Autism Acceptance Month is underway. Here's why the name is important

April used to be known as Autism Awareness Month. But in 2021, the designation changed to Autism Acceptance Month.

It's a simple – but important – revision.

The Autism Society of America announced the suggested shift in terminology last year, urging the media to go along, in order to ignite change in the lives of those with autism and their families, said Christopher Banks, president and CEO of The Autism Society of America.  

"Awareness is knowing that somebody has autism," Banks said. "Acceptance is when you include (a person with autism) in your activities. Help (them) to develop in that community and get that sense of connection to other people." 

Knowledge about the condition, which about 1 in 44 U.S. children have been identified with, is still important and Saturday, April 2, is known as World Autism Awareness Day.

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In a proclamation released Friday, President Biden said, "I call upon all Americans to learn more about autism to improve early diagnosis, to learn more about the experiences of autistic people from autistic people, and to build more welcoming and inclusive communities to support people with autism."

Autism is identified by a range of conditions, which may affect how individuals behave, communicate, interact and learn, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

About 1 in 44 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and more than 2% of adults in the U.S. are estimated to have ASD, the CDC estimates.

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Educational and social programs are vital to improving the opportunities of those with autism. Encouraging inclusive employment, living and social environment can help in the acceptance of the autism community, Banks said. 

"We believe that through creating connections, we empower everyone in the autism community with the resources to be able to live fully," he said.

In name of inclusion, the Autism Society of America called attention to a few nationwide initiatives this month, including:

  • First-responder training: About 20% of young adults with autism will "interact with a police officer" before they turn 21, and people with disabilities including autism are five times more likely to be incarcerated, the group said.
  • Employment advocacy: More than 70% of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed, the group said. "Given the current labor shortage, employers could benefit from expanding their pool of applicants through inclusive hiring practices. Autistic and neurodiverse individuals bring significant skills that can be harnessed when supported through inclusion and accommodations as needed."

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Autism Awareness Day history

April 2 became officially recognized as World Autism Awareness Day in 2008 with unanimous declarations from the United Nations General Assembly. The goal has been to help improve the quality of life of those with autism.

The campaign started as "an initiative rooted in the medical model of autism and focused on autistic children and finding a cure," wrote Ludmila Praslova, a professor and director of graduate programs in industrial-organizational psychology at Vanguard University of Southern California, who is autistic, in the Harvard Business Review on Friday.

Now, many autistic adults take a different perspective, she wrote, seeking "acceptance and inclusion rather than a cure and prefer the symbolism of diversity and completeness."

Workplaces, for instance, "can do much better than having an outdated, performative Autism Awareness Day," Praslova wrote. "Celebrating autism acceptance and inclusion rather than simply awareness can not only improve the well-being of your autistic employees."

Contributing: Mike Snider

Reviewed's coverage of autism products and topics