The month of April is known for autism awareness, but this time around, self-advocates are looking to expand the recognition toward acceptance of those with the developmental disorder.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is spearheading efforts to rebrand April — known for decades as “Autism Awareness Month” — as “Autism Acceptance Month.” The group has launched a website and is publicizing events in cities across the country that are geared toward inclusion, understanding and supporting those with autism.

“I don’t think there are many people who don’t know that autism exists. We think it’s time to move on to more constructive goals,” said Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, of the effort which is also being supported by TASH, the National Council on Independent Living and other groups.

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The initiative is an extension of a grassroots movement that emerged two years ago when Paula Durbin-Westby, who has autism, established a Facebook event titled “Autism Acceptance Day.” At the time, Durbin-Westby said she was inspired after hearing from other self-advocates who were frustrated like she was that the traditional awareness month often meant pleas for donations and negative portrayals of life with autism.

This year, organizers of acceptance month are hoping that what started as a word-of-mouth effort will blossom into an annual initiative focused on engaging people — both those personally connected to the autism community and those who are not — to take action to support people on the spectrum.

With that in mind, they are asking self-advocates, family members, educators, services providers and the general public to sign an online pledge in support of autism acceptance, something that Ne’eman called “a really easy step to becoming an ally.”

“I pledge to only attend, speak at or otherwise participate in autism panels, conferences and events that meaningfully involve autistic people. I choose not to give my business or my time to settings that fail to include autistic voices in conversations about autism,” the pledge states.

Beyond the push toward acceptance, other autism advocacy groups are gearing up for annual awareness activities and fundraising efforts.

The United Nations will host a series of autism panels and a reception on Tuesday. And, more than 7,000 buildings, landmarks and homes around the world including the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls and the International Space Station are expected to be lit blue to honor World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, among other activities.

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