The Accessibility Coalition plans to host its Autism Appreciation Celebration on April 1 with a focus on acceptance and appreciation of autistic and neuro-diverse individuals.
The celebration, which will occur from 4-7 p.m. on Friday on the Student Services Lawn, commemorates April as Autism Acceptance Month, a month dedicated to promoting autism education and celebrating the unique identities of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The event will include guest speakers, food catering and tabling to help students find resources and student organizations who meet their needs. Guest speakers will include ASU alumnus James Diebler and other students and alumni with autism.
President's Professor and leader of ASU's Autism/Asperger's Research Program James B. Adams said autism awareness is a crucial step in providing neuro-divergent students with the assistance they may need for academic and career success. Adams uses his experiences with his daughter, who was diagnosed with autism in 1994, as a catalyst for his research.
"Awareness is important because it's important to try to get an early diagnosis," he said. "Most kids with autism are not diagnosed until about age 4 to 5 years, some much later. The earlier they can get a diagnosis, the earlier they have a chance of receiving services. Being aware of support in school systems, special education and support from the state for behavioral therapy, speech therapy, etc. are all very important as well."
But the event's mission seeks to go beyond just awareness, recognizing the importance of education and appreciation. Last April, the Autism Society of America kickstarted the transition from "Autism Awareness Month" to "Autism Acceptance Month" in an effort to spark change in the community through initiatives like improved education support systems and accessible housing.
"Rather than using the word 'awareness' we want to use 'appreciation,' in order to lean more toward acceptance and love of the autistic individuals in our lives," said Alison Guthrie, a junior psychology student and Accessibility Coalition intern. "This is more of an autism pride event where students and faculty with autism can kind of open up about their identities and find resources and student organizations that suit their needs and interests."
Dani Spires, a freshman forensic science student and Accessibility Coalition intern, was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder — a diagnosis which brought them immense clarity and a newfound community — and said they feel understood and accepted by the Accessibility Coalition hosting this event.
"My whole life I struggled with all these different symptoms. Looking back at a lot of my life, it made so much sense. In general, people have this stigmatized view of it and a lot of people may have it and deny the possibility because of the stigma," Spires said. "I am so glad that I get to live in an age where things like acceptance and awareness are actually being done and it's happening right now."
Spires said many "tend to assume a lot of stuff" about autism.
"I would rather somebody ask me about me than judge me from (my diagnosis)," Spires said. "We need acceptance from our fellow peers, not just from doctors and therapists and parents and family."
In a college environment, community bonding events such as the Autism Appreciation Celebration are critical in helping students find a community to "connect with others who are going through similar experiences," Guthrie said.
"College is one of the one places where you're going to finally find a group of people who are like-minded or just similar in ways that maybe you couldn't find in a smaller setting, so I think it's important for students to be able to find their community," Guthrie said.
Sadie Buggle is a full-time reporter for the Community and Culture desk at The State Press. She was previously the editor-in-chief and news editor of her high school newspaper.