Changing the world! It was months in the planning, involved countless meetings and conference calls, it resulted in piles of research and when our first post for this year’s World Autism Awareness week went live we quickly realised we were onto something very special. Entitled ‘We’re changing the narrative on autism and neurodiversity’ it alluded to the first big change we made this year – to rebrand the purpose of the week to Autism Acceptance. “Awareness isn’t enough – we want to feel accepted.” It was these words from an autistic adult that changed the trajectory of our campaigning for 2018 into ’19. Was there something more we could do to help explain the importance and the vital need for people – all people – to feel like they are welcome in this world? Could we, as the North East Autism Society, be a catalyst for a movement towards acceptance? The answer was ‘yes’. On the back of previous successful Autism Awareness campaigns where we shared information, busted myths and signposted people to the services we provide on the ground, we made a deliberate intention to strive for acceptance. Working with autistic adults and activists, including the North-east’s own Kieran Rose of Infinite Autism, was the first step. He talked. We listened. It quickly became apparent that this year’s campaign would mean less ‘look at us’ and more ‘let’s together make a difference.’ This was a campaign to outlast a week’s hype and a month of activity. And the results blew us away. For this year’s campaign – just on our own platforms - we reached an astounding 420, 885 people with the inclusive message of autism acceptance! At the beginning of March, four weeks before the world would focus in on autism, we shared a statement which we had crafted, entitled: ‘we’re changing the narrative on autism and neurodiversity.’ The words – which acted like a manifesto for change – creatively caused readers to imagine what the world could be like if we make a shift towards understanding and acceptance. It went everywhere! No, really… EVERYWHERE, and it kicked off our best autism awareness acceptance campaign to date! So far our call to change the narrative and other acceptance week posts have been shared by Autism Society San Diego, Autism Society Ventura County California, the World Autism Organisation, the Special Needs Network Namibia, the Focus Group for Autism in South Africa, Autism Association of Namibia, the Women with Asperger’s in Boston, the Autistic Advocacy Council of Ireland, North Yorkshire Safeguarding Adults, Discovering Dyslexia – Texas, Neurodiverse Learning, The Autism Industry, Autistic Newsfeed, the Chronicle Sunshine Fund and Autism Alliance UK. Not forgetting the UK Embassy in Argentina. We also did an analysis of just how far our wider campaign went around the globe. From our base in the North-east we reached… Scotland, Kent, North Yorkshire, Sussex, Manchester and Ireland, before going further afield. We went to Russia, Italy, France and Argentina. We can’t miss out multiple places in the USA including Boston, San Diego, California and Texas. We even ended up north of the border in Canada! From there we headed to Africa stopping in on Cape Town, Namibia and Sudan before our far-east stop off in the United Arab Emirates before finally getting to Malaysia. We are particularly proud to also be one of the few, if not the only autism service provider in the UK publicly supported by autistic advocates and activists including: Agony Autie, International Badass Activist, Autistic UK and Neurodivergent Rebel who shared our posts with favourable comments. A particular highlight was seeing our words penned on the iconic white boards of the London Underground, being adopted by schools and then shared by the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn to his 1.9 million followers just on instagram. But has it made a difference? We believe it has and will continue to do so. By sticking our head – and beliefs – above the parapet, listening to #actuallyautistic people and by striving for acceptance we’ve already seen language shifting, public infrastructural organisations like Durham Police order our acceptance ribbons, had opportunity to influence politicians and leaders and crucially have had an influx of comments and thanks from autistic people and their families. Ps… this is just the beginning.