Some ways to incorporate “autism acceptance”

Filed Under (Acceptance, Activism) by Estee on 08-04-2013

To follow yesterdays post, I want to continue with some ways to incorporate “autism acceptance” into our communities while also resisting appropriation and totalizing effects. In other words, how do we keep the concept of acceptance open and as a human rights and substantive equality issue and to guard against the omission of others? As humanists, how can we work to include people at the proverbial table? Who is missing from it?

As Simon and Masschelein state in Shelley Tremain (2009), “what the discourse on inclusion takes for granted – namely, that human beings become individuals by belonging to a totality – is part of a governmental history and, furthermore, exemplifies the double-bond of individualization and totalization” (225). In the vein of bell hooks and others, “…disabled [people] may need some encouragement to explore the possible ways of being active subjects with options for transgression. Practices of transgression, in the context of inclusion, differ from a more antagonistic form of frontational styles of resistance; they represent a more agnostic form of struggle against those who attempt to exclude. Transgression could, on the one hand, be seen as representing a restricted level of engagement for disabled people; on the other hand, however, transgression could signal opportunities for practical involvement in battles that can be won….[this kind of exploration] may encourage disabled [people] to ‘escape grasps of categories.” (Simon & Masschelein, and Foucault in Tremain, 202).

At the York University Critical Disability Studies conference last weekend, as well as in other conversations, I usually will come across conversations within and from without the autistic community on how we could possibly include “lower” functioning and non-verbal autistic individuals. Usually the conversation peeters as people consider the systems and frameworks that are currently constructed, and how autistic people can function within them. This should illustrate the issue from the get-go – that the systems that are constructed are exclusive to many. Some of our more verbal members of the autistic community are permitted to participate because of the ability to acquire the “appropriate” skills, even if they are like exhausting performances for many. It could be considered as necessary to penetrate what was once even more impenetrable, but it doesn’t completely resolve our problem as a community. There are also folks doing participatory research in the field, yet often time and money constraints from research funding bodies don’t make space and time that is needed for the involvement of non-verbal individuals who need to take their time. These are considered, by normates in particular, as the least valuable members of our community because they are slow in a society that values speed, and this of course is conflated with efficiency.

The notion of finding ways to enable transgression is a possible way forward. In sitting on boards with “behavioural” (I’m using scare quotes for a reason, folks), and people who do not communicate typically, I can at least offer one observation that may contribute to this notion of acceptance – patience and consideration. For example, it is not great in a meeting if we say, okay that person’s formulating a comment or response so while we’re doing that let’s just move on with X. Rather, let there be silence so that others can have their say, in whatever manner they may say it! Let there be at least the time and the respect for people who need pictorial notes, who need time to use their devices, whose bodies require more space or close proximity or to jump up and down. My friends, could we all consider enabling other transgressive acts for freedom? These are the thoughts I wake up with every day as I enjoy interacting with my son.

I’d like to also add some great ideas from others for integrating acceptance into this month, and I hope every month such as this site from Autistic Self Advocacy Network and The Autism Acceptance Day/Month site and blog and The Autism Acceptance Project. It’s great to see folks working so hard for this. I guess I just don’t think “awareness” or acceptance should happen during solely during the month of April. To me that’s like being nice to a person one day a year on their birthday. I can’t even limit to a decade. The humanitarian movement should happen every day, and our need to promote acceptance speaks volumes about how people are feeling, treated and regarded in society.

Shelley Tremain, (2009), Foucault and the Government of Disability, The University of Michigan Press.

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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.