As Autism Awareness Month kicks off, hundreds of buildings will light up blue and a documentary about autism will screen nationally, but not everyone in the autism community is pleased with so much attention being paid to “awareness.”
Through Facebook, a budding movement is growing among those hoping to shift the conversation from one focused on a cure to an effort centered more on tolerance.
“I was a bit tired of seeing ‘awareness day’ events tied to organizations that are asking for donations,” says Paula Durbin-Westby, 52, who has autism and started a Facebook event called “Autism Acceptance Day” after hearing from others who felt hurt by traditional awareness events that didn’t highlight positive aspects of the developmental disorder.
So far, more than 1,000 people have signed on to participate in the grassroots effort. Meanwhile, a similar Facebook group called “Autism Understanding and Acceptance” has just over 1,700 members.
“A lot of what gets passed off as awareness paints autism as a death sentence,” says Melanie Yergeau, 27, an Ohio State University graduate student with Asperger’s syndrome who’s helping plan a poetry and essay reading featuring the work of individuals with autism in honor of Autism Acceptance Day. “This year we want to start off April with an acceptance message.”
The efforts come as more traditional awareness month activities are taking hold.
“Wretches & Jabberers,” a film about two men with autism, will start playing Friday at AMC Theatres. The movie will screen in 40 cities across the country during April through a deal with the Autism Society, which will receive some of the proceeds.
Meanwhile, more than 700 buildings and landmarks around the globe including Niagara Falls, the Empire State Building and the Sydney Opera House in Australia will light up blue Friday and Saturday nights as part of an Autism Speaks effort to mark World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.
Many NBA teams are also participating in the “Light It Up Blue” initiative by turning arenas blue, airing public service announcements during games and other activities.