How We're Celebrating Autism Acceptance Month in 2023
Autism Acceptance Month is a month “dedicated to ignite change and acceptance in the lives of individuals with autism, their families, and their communities” made official by the Department of Health and Human Services. As a diagnosis, autism touches every country and culture and embraces different symbols, language, and ideas. The National Autism Association reports that the number of people with autism has steadily grown over the last twenty years and that autism is currently the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the United States. It is estimated that 1 in 36 children are diagnosed with autism.
Whether your child is only recently diagnosed and you’re new to the autism community, or you’ve been a part of the community for a long time, you’ve probably noticed there’s not a lot of agreement among the larger community about how to talk about, support, and represent autism. One goal that can unite all of us is the need for greater support, with meaningful, effective, and accessible services that address real needs; real community that brings people together; and real support for individuals and families.
“Nothing about us without us”
The folks at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) put it this way:
People with autism “need to be involved whenever autism is discussed. When non-autistic people make decisions about autism without autistic input, those decisions are usually bad. We can make policies that help us live our lives and teach people how to be understanding and supportive of the autistic community.”
By learning more about autism and listening to the voices of those with autism spectrum disorder, we can all help support the broader autistic community.
Kim Sinclair, parent and executive director of the Autism Society of Los Angeles, points out that acceptance is about inclusion. “You can be aware of autism, but whether you take the next step and accept it, and include those individuals in the education setting and the workplace setting — that’s what makes the difference. Acceptance is the mindset that provides inclusion, and that’s where, as a society, we need to be shifting our focus.” And that is exactly why so many advocates and the organizations that champion and support people with autism are moving away from the term “autism awareness” to “autism acceptance.”
Check out these voices and how they’re amplifying their experience and advocating for a different narrative:
- Sonny Jane Wise: defying neuronormativity with color, style, and creative memes
- Nayeli: offering a safe space to “unmask and share experiences”
- Markeisha Hall: creating a space for moms who want to thrive while raising neurodivergent kids
- Haley Moss: Florida's first documented open attorney with autism, also an author, artist, advocate, and speaker
- Jennifer Marie White-Johnson: a neurodivergent mama and Afro-Latina artist for Disability Design & Justice, creating art in the name of advocacy
How can we actively enforce inclusivity?
Kaustinen says, we should focus more on doing life together. “We’re all one, we’re all part of society. I feel that California is behind in inclusive practices, and the pandemic reinforced that.”
Another challenge Kaustinen has seen parents face is a lack of support, which affects our mental health. Still, as hard as it is, it’s essential that we make time to take care of ourselves. “If you’re not in the right space, you’re not going to be able to help your child,” Kaustinen says. In this clip, she explains how focusing on each individual’s strengths can help parents, teachers, and employers better understand and support people with autism.
The pandemic provided a variety of unique opportunities for neurodiverse individuals in both school and the workforce. The flexibility of learning and working remotely removed anxieties for some people. Kaustinen mentions that she saw high school students academically excel by switching to a virtual learning environment. This has made teachers pause and look at the practices they’ve always used in education. She’s seen companies take more action in looking at neurodiversity, changing hiring practices instead of following the traditional interview processes. Kaustinen describes how “not trying to fix” but being accepting allows for more inclusivity in spaces we are all a part of.
How can we better support our kids and adults with autism?
As parents, we want our children to be happy and carry out their lives feeling capable and accomplished. With organizations like Autism Society of America, Organization for Autism Research, and Autistic Self Advocacy Network as an inspiration and resource, we’ve listed a few areas in which we can work to better support both our neurodiverse and neurotypical communities.
- Advocating in school
- Inclusion: Kids learn best when surrounded by their peers. Separating children with disabilities only widens the gap of understanding and learning! Advocating for more inclusive practices in classrooms leads to inclusivity in the workforce, housing communities, and everyday life.
- Supports: For inclusion to truly work, our children need to be supported in classrooms with accommodations and services that allow them to access classroom material in a variety of ways. Teachings that follow Universal Design for Learning (UDL) make students feel comfortable, welcome, and valued along with their peers.
- Support in the workforce
- Job coaching: Job coaching can help people with autism prepare for job interviews and life in the workforce. With valuable resources like interview practice and resume writing, people with autism can be better prepared to enter the workforce.
- Accommodations: As explained by ASAN, “Once we get a job, we may need accommodations like a daily work agenda with visuals, a consistent job schedule, or someone to help us with our job throughout the day.”
Housing and everyday responsibilities
- Housing support: As ASAN says, people with autism “have specific needs when it comes to getting housing. We may be sensitive to certain sounds or lighting, need help doing tasks around the house, need assistive technology in the house to help us, or have other support needs.” Accessible and inclusive housing will aid people with disabilities when transitioning to adult communities.
Research and health care
- Supportive research: Research that is focused on communication, community living, education, and health care for people with autism is what supports kids for their future. As Undivided parent Michelle Malewitz puts it, “There is nothing wrong with my child, he doesn’t need to be fixed, and he is not missing a piece. He is absolutely the same wonderful and amazing kid he was pre-diagnosis.”
- Understanding autism: The more we understand about autism, the more accurate help and support our doctors and teachers can provide.