Embracing autism to embrace acceptance for all!

Bella Lee, Staff writer

Autism Acceptance Month, otherwise known as Autism Awareness Month or Autism Appreciation Month, is celebrated every year in April.

For the past several years, Mercyhurst has commemorated this month by lighting up the O’Neill Tower blue in solidarity. This month is especially important to me, as someone who is on the autism spectrum.

I was diagnosed with autism when I was three years old. At that point in time, I still was not speaking, which worried my parents. Since my diagnosis, two other family members of mine have also been given autism diagnoses: my mom’s cousin, who received a diagnosis when he was 15, and my 10-year-old brother, who was diagnosed in 2019.

At first glance, I appear as the stereotypical definition of “you don’t look like you have autism.”

However, one of my greatest weaknesses in school, which extended all the way until I started attending Mercyhurst, was my lack of proper social skills. I was painfully shy, to the point that my parents had to force me to make plans with my friends in high school in order to get some form of social interaction outside of school, and as a result was bullied a lot.

I did not understand social cues all that well, leading me to do things like interrupt conversations constantly.

Despite all of the negativity that I faced during my time in grade school, I have always been proud of having autism.

Going to a school like Mercyhurst, where the autism community is so strongly embraced especially thanks to the AIM Program, has been so imperative in me embracing being on the spectrum.

AIM has helped me so much and now I have been able to serve as a support system for younger students that are on the spectrum, as well as assisting my boyfriend on working towards getting an autism diagnosis for himself.

With all of this in mind, the stigma of autism being a bad thing is something that has been circulating the news for decades and needs to be stopped.

Over the past couple of years, autism support has been shifted from Autism Speaks to the Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), because Autism Speaks has been revealed to have very negative views of autism. This includes promoting therapy that would make individuals with autism act as if they do not have it at all, “erasing” their autism in asense.

Unfortunately, the negative views of autism will stick around, so long as there are anti-vaxxers who believe that vaccines cause autism. However, my friends and I have been able to make jokes about these views, such as lighthearted joking about how getting the COVID vaccines and their boosters just further increases our autism.

Overall, I am infinitely proud that I have autism.

No matter how accepted or unaccepted it is in whatever community I find myself in, I take great pride in the fact that I have autism.

It is extremely important to be educated on autism so that the stigma can be destroyed, and that autism can fully, 100% be accepted and it helps if people are educated about the topic.