April is Autism Acceptance Month. Not Just Awareness!
This year “Autism Awareness” is being replaced with “Autism Acceptance”.
Acceptance, primarily because we all need to be more accepting of individuals who are different from us.
“Why Acceptance”? You may ask?
“I thought it was “Autism Awareness Month”?
Yes, it used to be Autism Awareness and it still is (somewhat).
You see, Autism is so prevalent that the rate of diagnosis has increased from 1 in 125 children in 2010 to 1 in 54 children in 2020! So, chances are that you probably know someone who has autism.
Well, if you don’t know any individual with Autism, let me fix that. Allow me to introduce you to my 10-year-old son and my heart, Tishe who is on the Autism spectrum. So, there you have it, you now know someone living with Autism.
Again, Awareness, we’ve got that part down.
“So, Acceptance! Huh”? Why Acceptance?
The shift from “Awareness” to “Acceptance” is necessary in the light of the challenges that autistic people continue to face on a daily basis.
With all the talk of diversity, inclusion and equity, people on the spectrum continue to strive for acceptance and inclusion.
Acceptance of their diversity, acceptance of their differences, acceptance of their unique abilities.
Dedicating the month of April to “Autism Acceptance” ignites conversations around empowering autistic individuals and their families. Conversations that hopefully would spark systemic changes in favor of people with Autism. Empowerment through access to education, employment, housing, affordable health care and long-term services.
As a parent of a child on the spectrum, I encounter well-meaning people who struggle to accept the quirks that come with Autism. Well-meaning individuals like family, friends and educators.
Let me give you a few subtle and potentially harmful examples:
Sending a child with autism to a quiet corner because the child is making sounds and distracting other students is not acceptance of the child’s needs. Those “distracting sounds” could be that the child is overstimulated and needs to self- regulate.
Stating that a child’s “melt-down” is bad behavior is not acceptance of the child’s needs. You see, the child might simply be trying to communicate and you are simply not tuned in to their needs.
When you see a child having a “melt-down” in the grocery store, and the parent is seemingly ignoring the child’s behavior, do not judge the parent. The parent is most likely engaging in applied behavior management techniques and is attempting to remain neutral to the child’s behavior (aka Applied Behavior Analysis -ABA). This is a proven technique by the way.
Instead, smile at the parent and offer an encouraging word.
And for educators/ day-caregivers, you can help manage classroom behavior by asking the parent what strategies work at home and try to implement those at school. (Children on the spectrum thrive on consistency).
Finally, for general information on what Autism means and how one can show acceptance, educate yourself on Autism Acceptance and Awareness by reading more on www.autism-society.org and www.autisticadvocacy.org