April actually has two meanings, depending on where you stand in the autism community.
For most who work in the field, it is Autism Awareness Month: a month of “Light It Up Blue,” fundraising, and quoting a lot from Autism Speaks. It’s about posts of what autism is, the therapies designed to assist in it, and helping families affected by it.
For many autistic individuals, April is Autism Acceptance Month. It highlighted by the color red, shared personal experiences, and quoting a lot from each other. It’s about posts of what autism is really like, programs for autistic adults, and what the future holds for them.
These two shouldn’t be so different, but they are.
With SPARC, I find myself a bit in the middle. I have grown understandably wary of Autism Speaks since speaking to and listening to autistic individuals, and I definitely feel that not enough focus has been made on involving autistics in the autism conversation (at least not here in the United States). At the same time, I don’t think we’ve gotten past the awareness stage yet, either. There are still huge pockets of communities that don’t know everything they could know about autism. Awareness just has to be done correctly, and with respect rather than ignorance.
I think both need to be focused on, without being at odds with one another.
Below is a link to a blog post about Steve Asbell’s Autistic Masking Quiz, which asks questions to help adults determine if they have been “masking” their autistic symptoms, or perhaps to help someone identify if they’re possibly on the spectrum at all. I hope we can eventually get to a point where the “masking” isn’t needed, and doesn’t cause the potential mental harm that comes from denying your true self.
I wanted to post this before releasing the next workshop flyer, because this symbol has gotten a very mixed reaction from the autism community…and rightfully so.
The puzzle piece has become a standard symbol for autism worldwide, from representing entire organizations to being featured on necklaces and bumper stickers. For both sides of the coin, it symbolizes autism being a bit of a mystery, a puzzle to be solved and completed. For some, it represents hope that answers may be found. For others, it is dismissive of their lives and experiences.
For SPARC and its mission, it represents something entirely different.
The purpose of SPARC is to educate, and though we don’t adopt the puzzle piece as our symbol (nor will we ever do so), we embrace a different meaning for it.
For SPARC, the puzzle represents connecting the pieces for minority communities.
It means connecting “stranded” families to resources and assistance.
It means establishing support systems for those on the spectrum and their caregivers in these communities.
It means linking a community together in awareness, acceptance, affirmation, and advocacy.
So, when you see the puzzle piece on any flyers or marketing for SPARC, know that it carries a completely different meaning for us. It doesn’t represent autism itself, but rather represents underserved communities being given much needed tools to assist with autism.