World Autism day was this past Tuesday, April 2, but the entire month of April is celebrated as Autism Awareness month. It’s posted all over social media and broadcasted in the news with countless small and large organizations worldwide promoting autism awareness. However, I would like to take it a step further. Don’t get me wrong, building awareness is important, but what about driving acceptance?
Online, I recently read a Jewish Boston article, “Etymology of the Word ‘Autism,’” that really struck a chord. The article’s author, Nessa Levine, a teen living on the autism spectrum, stated: “The word, ‘autism,’ is composed of two parts, ‘aut’ and ‘ism.’ The prefix of the word is ‘aut,’ which comes from the Greek word, ‘autós,’ meaning ‘self.’ The suffix, ‘ism,’ also from Greek, implies a state of being or condition. When I looked at the prefix and suffix of the word combined, I found that the word, ‘autism,’ in its purest form, means ‘a state of being oneself.’”
Levine continued, “At that moment, everything clicked for me. It solidified my firm belief that autism is not a disease, but rather a state of being. Most people realize at a very young age that they must hide parts of who they are in order to be accepted in the world. Without it being explicitly taught to them, they know how to change their personalities and actions to ‘fit in’ with everyone else. However, people with autism are born without the innate realization that they need to change who they are to belong. We embrace every part of ourselves, regardless of whether or not it is socially acceptable. We see the act of changing ourselves for someone else’s approval as pointless, and we need to be explicitly taught how to alter ourselves to function in society.”
Mind-blowing! How many parents out there secretly hope their child’s autism can be cured, meaning the countless challenges, and ostracism from the so-called norms of society could magically disappear? What drives us to try medication, special diets, every nouveau therapy—while longingly looking at other children, who on the surface seem normal, but are struggling with their own challenges, especially in this viral society, suffering from the pressures of being accepted by their peers?
I looked up the etymology of the word, “acceptance.” From the late 14th century old French root, “accepter,” or directly from Latin “acceptare,” it means to “take or receive willingly," or "receive, get without effort.”
Folks as parents, caregivers, family and friends of someone on the autism, that’s exactly what we wholeheartedly need to do—receive autism willingly and accept it without effort. I know that’s a tall bill, but with each day observing, engaging, and above all, loving my daughter, I sometimes am baffled. How did God bless me with this beautiful being? Her smile, giggles, bewitching beauty, cunning personality and athleticism melts my heart. Autism is challenging, but I feel like the luckiest parent in the world. My daughter cannot lie. She’s comfortable in her own skin and cannot be bullied into trying to be something she’s not.
Autism awareness is important, but building acceptance is even more vital. Our loved ones should not be left out of activities just because they have differing social skills and intellectual abilities. We should promote inclusion of all children within the community, especially the educational and vocational environment.
Let’s drive the momentum for acceptance of our loved ones with autism. You never know what their beautiful hearts, minds and souls can contribute. Keep building awareness, but note that acceptance is the key to a brave new world.