As a mother of a teenager with autism, I know firsthand the challenges that come with raising a child on the spectrum. But, I also know the joys and rewards that come with embracing and accepting my son for who he is, and appreciating the amazing lens through which he sees and experiences the world.
These activities provide important education and can help dispel myths and preconceptions about the disorder. Often, they also help raise funds for research and services that improve the lives of those on the spectrum.
While awareness is an important part of improving the lives of those with autism, it is not enough. That's why many groups, such as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), have advocated for changing the focus from awareness to acceptance. ASAN has referred to April as Autism Acceptance Month since 2011, and many other groups have picked up on this change in recent years.
Autism acceptance involves recognizing and embracing the differences that make each individual unique, regardless of their neurodiversity. It means going beyond mere awareness and actively working to create a more inclusive and accepting world for those on the spectrum. Acceptance also means recognizing that autism is just one aspect of a person's identity. Everyone has value and deserves the opportunity to live a fulfilling and meaningful life, regardless of their neurodiversity. It involves seeking to understand someone deeper than their labels, and building an inclusive community for diverse neurotypes. Acceptance requires year-round commitment and is important so that we can break down stigmas about people on the autism spectrum and recognize their unique contributions to our lives.
A More Inclusive Community: Three Ways to Demonstrate Acceptance
We can demonstrate acceptance by creating and maintaining spaces in the classroom, home and workplace, where those with autism can be heard, feel more comfortable and accepted, and where they can flourish. Here are three specific ways:
As educators, parents and coworkers, we can work with autistic individuals to identify and highlight their strengths. By understanding those strengths, we can find opportunities to leverage them in classroom or work assignments. My son does not like writing, but he has amazing reading comprehension and analysis skills. Instead of writing a lengthy essay, his teacher suggested that he have me interview him about the book and record the interview. He could convey all his ideas and observations without staring at a computer screen and getting frustrated.
We can also be more thoughtful in engaging autistic individuals,
and ask for their perspective on a discussion and involve them in decision-making. My son often has a completely different perspective on a situation that really makes me stop and think. When he was small, I would give him 2-3 choices to empower him (and avoid meltdowns). As an adult, we help each other analyze situations, distill down options, and come todecisions. It’s such a gift to have his input.
In classrooms, homes and workspaces, we can incorporate sensory-friendly spaces to make learning and working easier and more accessible for those on the spectrum. We can adjust lighting, eliminate strong odors like perfume or air freshener, provide noise canceling headphones and quiet hand fidget devices.
A friend came to our house for a social gathering, and after an hour or so, they asked for a sensory break and retreated to a dark, quiet, side room to listen to music for a bit. Because we were all aware and accepting, no one considered this simple, self-advocacy to be strange or rude and we all had a wonderful evening.
As a mother, I have experienced the many challenges that come with raising a child on the spectrum. When my son was younger, he struggled to communicate his needs and have his voice heard. It was difficult for him to connect with his peers and form meaningful relationships. His actions were viewed as abrasive, reactionary or anti-social. Early on, his teachers became frustrated because he couldn’t conform to the traditional sit-in-your desk classroom style. Their frustrations compounded his frustrations, isolation and he was labeled as “the bad kid.”
As he has grown, however, I have seen the positive impact that acceptance can have. By creating spaces where his unique perspective is valued and heard, and where his particular needs are met, he has been able to thrive and grow. He has found a supportive community of peers, teachers and providers who accept him for who he is and celebrate his strengths. Through therapy and other support services, he has also learned valuable coping strategies to manage his anxiety and sensory sensitivities.
Acceptance is not just about creating spaces for those on the spectrum. It is also about creating a more accepting and inclusive society for everyone. Ultimately, building a culture of acceptance starts with each one of us. Whether we have a loved one with autism or not, we can all play a role in creating a more inclusive and accepting world. By advocating for acceptance and celebrating our neurodiversity, we can build a future where we embrace the differences that make us all unique.
In conclusion, Autism Awareness Month (maybe, one day known as Autism Acceptance Month) is an important time for us to come together as a community to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorder. But, it is also a time for us to move beyond awareness and towards acceptance. By creating spaces where autistic voices are heard, and by actively working to create a more inclusive and accepting world, we can help those on the spectrum thrive and grow. We will all be better for it.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Dr. Crystal G. Morrison is a highly regarded executive advisor, strategist, leader, scientist, and tech entrepreneur. She has three beautiful children ages 19, 17 and 14. One of her children is autistic and has additional mental health diagnoses. The other two children were adopted and experienced extreme poverty and trauma. As a mom, she’s spent almost 20 years navigating the complex system of care and advocating for her children. Her experience inspired her to co-found and lead Meerkat Village, a software company dedicated to improving outcomes for children with special needs by building collaboration and communication among adults providing care.
Peter Busscher is a Senior at the University of Pittsburgh studying Linguistics and International Studies. He is currently a student intern at Meerkat Village.
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