LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Chances are, you know someone that’s autistic.
According to the Center for Disease Control, around 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, often shortened to ASD or just “autism.” It is found in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s not known what causes autism, but the CDC believes that multiple sources can act together and manifest as autism.
Autism Awareness Day falls on April 2, and the entire month is considered Autism Awareness Month by advocates.
Activists will wear blue, buildings will be illuminated in blue colors, and the puzzle piece logo is displayed, often on ribbons.
While April may have passed, the work for autism acceptance isn’t over.
To many, the puzzle piece is the national symbol of autism and autism awareness in children. To others, particularly those in the autistic community, it can be seen as offensive.
“The history of the puzzle piece is rooted in ableism, eugenics, and the need for a cure,” said Styx Cyrpus. “I don’t support it. It was created by Autism Speaks which many autistics consider to be a hate organization. None of their board members are autistic, the money they earn doesn’t go towards helping actually autistic people, and they’re looking for a cure and believe in eugenics.”
Cyprus is a Lansing resident. He is an autistic adult and an advocate for autism acceptance.
“The original puzzle piece symbol had a picture of a child crying on the front which was to represent the mystery and sadness associated with autism at the time. As the puzzle piece evolved, it was then meant to signify that we were broken and “missing pieces” to make us whole humans,” he said.
To Cyprus and advocates like him, the current symbols used to promote autism awareness don’t reflect their ideal methods of spreading awareness and acceptance of autism, and said that it often leaves out autistic voices and ignores autistic adults and that it focuses on children.
“For light it up blue, I don’t support it… the “blue” was to signify that it was only boys who are autistic. And this is far from the truth. There’s lots of really ableist ideas that come from this slogan and it’s not something I support. I personally like “Red Instead” or “Go Gold” and the infinity symbol,” Cyprus said.
However, not everyone agrees with Cyprus.
The Xavier DeGroat foundation, a Lansing-area nonprofit founded by Xavier DeGroat, an autistic adult, embraces the puzzle piece. The nonprofit’s logo is an X made up of puzzle pieces, and DeGroat himself is wearing a puzzle-piece patterned tie in his official portrait.
Despite differing views on iconography, both Cyprus and DeGroat agree on perhaps the most important issue, that the best thing for autistic people, both children and adults, is acceptance and understanding – not just awareness.
“All kinds of people say, I heard of autism, but do they really accept autism?” Degroat said in a February interview with WLNS.
“I think it should be Autism Acceptance Month. [Instead of awareness month,]” said Cyprus. “People are already aware we exist; we don’t need them to know we’re here. We need to have people accept us for exactly who we are, and not try to change us. Awareness is passive; acceptance is active.”
So, what does autism acceptance look like?
To Cyprus, it’s understanding that autistic adults were once autistic children.
“I think people forget that autistic adults exist. That we’re here and can help you with your autistic children because we were them once. If you want to learn how to climb a mountain, you ask someone who has climbed that mountain. You want to learn how to build a house? You ask someone who has built a house. You want to learn how to help autistic children? You ask an autistic adult,” he said.
It’s also putting autistic voices first when discussing autism.
“A lot of the time we are talked over and left out of topics that are supposed to be for us. Autistic people know more about autism than anyone that supports us through our journey,” said Cyprus.