Celebrating Neurodiversity: Autism Acceptance Month

April is Autism Acceptance Month, a yearly observance to promote understanding, inclusion, and self-advocacy for autistic members of our community. At Michigan Technological University, we aim to go beyond awareness and actively celebrate the diversity of minds and perspectives that autistic students, faculty, and staff bring to our Husky family.

Understanding Autism and Neurodiversity

Autism is a developmental disability that shapes how autistic people experience the world. It’s important to recognize that autism is a natural variation in human brain function, rather than a disorder necessitating a cure. Autistic people are valued members of our community and have always existed within every society worldwide. Above all, this understanding lies at the heart of the neurodiversity paradigm, which regards neurological differences like autism as part of the valuable diversity of human minds. It rejects the notion of a single “normal” or “healthy” type of brain. Just as we embrace diversity in ethnicity, gender, and culture, the neurodiversity paradigm champions the idea that everyone, including autistic people, brings unique strengths, talents, and perspectives to our society.

The Origins of Autism Acceptance Month

Initially, Autism Acceptance Month originated from the neurodiversity movement. The concept was led by the autistic community to celebrate neurological differences and challenge the view of autism as a disorder in need of a cure. Initially designated as Autism Awareness Month, this observance originally aimed to educate the public about autism spectrum disorder. However, many autistic advocates felt that the “awareness” framing supported negative stereotypes and a narrow understanding of autism.

In 2011, autistic blogger and activist Paula C. Durbin-Westby organized the first Autism Acceptance Day on April 1. This new celebration was held in contrast to Autism Awareness campaigns. Her goal was to shift the focus toward acceptance, inclusion, and neurodiversity—embracing autism as a natural variation in human neurocognition rather than something to be cured. The idea quickly gained traction within the autistic community and expanded into a month-long celebration of Autism Acceptance.

Over the past decade, Autism Acceptance Month has provided a platform for autistic voices and perspectives, as well as calls for societal changes that move beyond mere awareness and toward true inclusion, accommodation, and celebration of neurodiversity. It represents the ongoing efforts of the autistic community to redefine societal narratives surrounding autism on their own terms.

From Acceptance to Celebration

While Autism Acceptance Month emphasizes the importance of accepting and including autistic people, we at Michigan Tech believe in going a step further and actively celebrating neurodivergence. Acceptance is a crucial first step, but true inclusion means recognizing and valuing the distinct contributions of our autistic community members.

Stelle Barone ’23, BS Applied Ecology and Environmental Sciences, shared his experience. “At first, I felt like many autistic people—that I had to cover it up. We have this thing we call ‘masking’—you just pretend around neurotypical people, people who aren’t autistic, that you’re not autistic to make them feel better. And then I became an RA (resident assistant), and I met my residents. I learned very quickly that a lot of them were also neurodivergent and it was a way for us to connect and relate to each other.”

Barone served as an RA and president of both the Xi Sigma Pi forestry honor society and Keweenaw Accessibility Advocacy student organization during his time at Michigan Tech. As a student leader, Barone worked to create spaces for open discussion about neurodivergence and healthy ways for students to navigate their experiences.

I learned very quickly that a lot of them were also neurodivergent and it was a way for us to connect and relate to each other.

Stelle Barone ’23, BS Applied Ecology and Environmental Sciences

To create a truly inclusive environment, we must move beyond mere tolerance and work toward actively promoting understanding, providing support, and creating opportunities for our autistic students, faculty, and staff to thrive.

Creating an Autism-inclusive Michigan Tech

Significantly, research indicates that autistic people often encounter heightened challenges in workplace and educational settings. These challenges can include increased social demands, the disabling nature of the environment, and heightened risk of burnout. At Michigan Tech, we are committed to fostering an environment where all individuals feel welcomed and can excel.

Offering Resources and Support Services

Our Student Disability Services, Employee ADA Coordinator, and the Center for Student Mental Health and Well-being are equipped to provide accommodations, assistive technologies, and personalized support to autistic students and employees.

Sensory-friendly Events

The Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts provides a full range of accommodations, including sensory-friendly events, to support the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of guests. Sensory-friendly events help to include all members of our community in the magic of performances. This can benefit everyone including autistic people, young children, individuals with sensory sensitivities, and first-time attendees.

Individualized Learning and Community Building

Generally, being a good friend and ally to an autistic person is similar to being a good friend and ally to anyone else.

  1. Practice active listening and seek to understand their communication styles and preferences.
  2. Recognize and celebrate their strengths, talents, and achievements, and offer help when needed.
  3. Respect boundaries and ask for consent before initiating physical contact.
  4. Include autistic people in social gatherings and activities, and try to create inclusive environments where everyone feels welcome and valued.

Additionally, think about the following:

Educate Yourself

Take the initiative to educate yourself about neurodivergence, including autism. Read books, articles, and personal accounts written by autistic individuals. Follow #ActuallyAutistic on social media.

Advocate for Accessibility

Advocate for greater accessibility and accommodations within academic and community settings to ensure equal opportunities for autistic individuals. Raise awareness about the importance of inclusive design, sensory-friendly environments, and flexible working and learning options that cater to diverse needs.

Challenge Stigma and Stereotypes

Challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about autism by promoting positive portrayals and advocating for accurate representation in media and society. Speak out against discrimination and promote acceptance and understanding of neurodivergence as an integral part of human diversity.

Be an Ally and Amplify Voices

Stand in solidarity with autistic people as an ally and advocate for their rights and inclusion. Amplify their voices and experiences, particularly in decision-making processes and discussions about policies and initiatives that affect them directly. Take action to address systemic barriers and promote systemic change.

By taking these steps and remaining open to feedback and continuous improvement, we can work together to create an inclusive environment where all Huskies, including those who are autistic, feel welcomed, supported, and empowered to reach their full potential.

Exploring Autism: Self-discovery and Resources

Finally, if you’re questioning whether you might be autistic, it’s important to know that self-diagnosis is a common and valid way for many individuals to understand themselves. Autistic traits can manifest in various ways and may not always fit neatly into diagnostic criteria. Many autistic people have found validation and community through self-discovery.

If you resonate with experiences shared by autistic individuals and wonder if you might be autistic yourself, you’re not alone. Exploring your identity and understanding yourself better is a journey. It’s okay to seek information and support along the way.

While self-diagnosis can be a powerful tool for self-understanding, a formal diagnosis from a qualified professional can offer additional benefits. A formal diagnosis can open doors to support services and accommodations and can also be helpful for navigating educational settings or the workplace.


This list of resources is a great place to start learning more about autism—whether you are autistic or want to know more.