Autism Awareceptance from one Chinese/Asian autistic perspective
I’m calling it Autism Awareceptance for convenience and to be inclusive because I think both awareness and acceptance are important (although personally, I prefer the term autism enlightenment). In this post, I will talk about both awareness and acceptance, from one Chinese/Asian autistic perspective. These are my own views and do not necessarily represent others on the spectrum.
Some say it is not helpful to talk about awareness but as with other discussion on terminology, that comes down to how one defines the word. I talk about autism awareness, firstly because awareness encompass knowledge and understanding. If you have heard of autism but doesn’t know or understand what it means, that isn’t awareness. Secondly, the West has seen an increase in research and developments on autism (whether that amounts to awareness is another issue). However, autism remains an understudied area in Chinese society, there hasn’t been any recent and updated studies on the prevalence of autism in the local population. On the other hand, I have heard accounts of Chinese parents with children who are diagnosed with autism and/or adhd using the word ‘abnormal’ to describe their child and their wish for their child to be normal. Some parents express shame and hide their child’s diagnosis from relatives and friends. Apparently, it is also not uncommon for people to give up their children for adoption due to their disabilities or special needs. These stem from a culture that highly values conformity and stigmatizes disability, as well as a lack of knowledge and understanding of autism. In addition, the incident between myself and the university’s misleading article on autism and the lack of public and media attention reflects the low importance ascribes to autism. For these reasons, I think it is still important to talk about awareness and by that, I mean well-informed knowledge and understanding.
Acceptance is just as important but contrary to mainstream views on acceptance, I feel uneasy with the emphasis on acceptance. As with the problem with ‘awareness’, acceptance may not be true acceptance but simply unwilling acceptance of the fact that autism exists, whether people like it or not, but leaving terminology aside, I’m not against acceptance per se. Being autistic, I too wish to be accepted by society and not be shunned for my differences. Being autistic however, has also taught me to embrace diversity and that it is ok to be different. The former is about acceptance by others, the latter is about self-acceptance. In talking about acceptance, I think it is important to point out that our self-worth should not be determined by the acceptance of others. I feel strongly about this because of the cultural context described above. There is a tendency that one will measure his/her self-worth by the acceptance of others, particularly in a society where awareness is lacking. Not everyone with autism will be comfortable or feel empowered enough to assert their autistic identity, there will be people who struggle to negotiate with their autistic identity and others grappling with self-esteem issues. Where a person can’t even accept that him/herself or his/her child is autistic because of the lack of understanding of autism, coupled with a society where people tend to compare and measure themselves against societal norms, the challenges are manifold. It is therefore important to emphasize that our self-acceptance is NOT determined by others. In advocating for autism acceptance, it is just as important, if not more so, to advocate for self-acceptance. And if necessary, I would even say fuck society.
The beneficiaries of increased autism awareceptance
No doubt, increased autism awareceptance is for the benefit of autistics but I think autism awareceptance has the potential for greater good and benefits society as a whole, that is, if increased autism awareceptance comes with increased awareceptance of diversity. Let me explain.
First, not everyone who display autistic traits are diagnosed with autism, they may be on the borderline and without a diagnosis, they may feel excluded and find themselves in a state of limbo, on the one hand, they do not identify with being neurotypical, on the other hand, they do not display enough traits to be autistic. Second, I have also come across teenagers who have trouble expressing and articulating their emotions, similar to alexithymia that is common to many autistics. Third, in addition to being autistic, I’m also an introvert although not all introverts are autistic and vice versa. These people (the borderline, the introverts, the people with trouble recognising emotions etc.) may not be autistic, while others may be diagnosed with sensory processing disorder or epilepsy or other neurological conditions that share similarities with autism. Whether you are a neurotypical with autistic traits or neuro-divergent, it is ok to be different and don’t build your self-worth on the acceptance of others. Society must stop stigmatizing people for their differences, be it neurological or individual personality differences.