April is an important month for autistic people and those who love and support them. Each year, we keep adding adjectives to our description. Part of the reason is that our community is growing, and more diverse voices are rising up to be heard. Advocacy in the autism community tells us that It is not until people understand and accept that we can say progress has been made.
We know a lot of progress has been made toward awareness. But the gulf between awareness and understanding remains vast.
Awareness is all about creating a sense of urgency and fear. Some people feel that Awareness efforts present Autism as a problem to be solved.
I loved hearing Denise Bergh share the other day about her son’s stemming. She realized that what she saw as a potential problem that might keep her child from being a part of the world was how he coped and calmed himself. She understood and accepted. That was an awareness being taking to the next level.
Awareness is easy. Acceptance requires actual work and determination.
Acceptance comes from a place of understanding.
Soundbites and poster children don’t generate understanding. Discussion and honesty get us to understanding.
I’ve seen a lot more of that this year as more Autistic people and parent advocates talk about making strides in acceptance and understanding.
As parents, how can you work toward your children being accepted? To accept our kids and the neurodiverse community, people first need to acknowledge them as individuals-as three dimensional, growing, developed characters.
They are not all the same, and they are not but a collection of deficits.
We model this when we acknowledge and share our understanding. Acceptance sees that one’s distaste for an autistic person is more likely than not because of “autism.” It’s because it might be a little more difficult or uncomfortable to get to know them.
Acceptance requires facing that which makes you uncomfortable about an autistic person and thinking about why it makes you uncomfortable and confronting any prejudice at the root of that discomfort.
Accepting an individual with autism is to make a conscious effort to overcome that prejudice and recognize that your discomfort with differences is far more your problem to overcome than theirs.
Acceptance and awareness come from vastly different mindsets.
Acceptance wants to understand. To look at commonalities, we all share and at the strength inherent in diversity. When we know and understand someone, we say, “you are you, and that’s pretty awesome. I am me, and that’s pretty awesome.” Acceptance with understanding seeks to meet people where they are.
In the Autism community, parents want kids to be seen for their uniqueness and wholeness. Not as projects or as charity cases.
Not as someone to “tolerate” but to be embraced, differences and all.
Engaged, employed, included.
When you first became aware of your child’s autism, it felt like a tragic event. As you continue to understand, your acceptance says that the tragedy would be trying to make them any other way.
So remember: Becoming aware is a one-time thing usually. But acceptance is a constant process. And it doesn’t end on April 30.
So as parents, keep working toward acceptance to pave the way for your child to live the full life everyone deserves. And for that, we will have to work toward understanding.
And I encourage you to work together and not allow differences in the way we express ourselves or the words we use to describe Autism to divide us. You are much stronger together than you are divided. We can find common ground.
Let’s make the world understand that acceptance is not just the goal but the reality. In a world where neurodiversity will be just another way people are unique, everyone will agree that diversity is part of what makes the world beautiful. So keep being you.
Joy is originally from the Central Valley of California, where she was raised on a farm and discovered her love for growing things. As the mother of a blended family of 7 adults and the grandmother of 9, she's learned many lessons about supporting the growth of people.