As you may already know the month of April is when we celebrate autism. Some used to refer to this month as “Autism Awareness Month.” But, now there is a growing movement to refer to it as “Autism Acceptance Month.” Because, it is one thing to be aware that autism exists, and it’s another to truly accept and validate autism traits. In my next three blogs, I will discuss how neurotypicals, autism parents, and neurotypical partners can be an autism ally.
The Issue with Autism Awareness
Many people who are not familiar with autism advocacy celebrate “autism awareness month.” They may even participate in various “light it up blue campaigns.” However, the autism community stays that awareness is not enough. What individuals with autism need is acceptance. The goal of this shift in language is to promote change and improved support for people with autism.
Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America, says “While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life. As many individuals and families affected by autism know, acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.”
You may be wondering? What’s so bad about awareness? Well, let me break it down a bit. Acceptance is a start, but most people know autism exists. Now, it’s time to dig deeper and do more. Acceptance is not an answer or a solution to many of the challenges autistic individuals face in a neurotypical society. Furthermore, awareness operates by promoting stereotypes. It does not fully encapsulate the uniqueness of each individual. Therefore it does not give neurotypical society an accurate understanding of autism. Essentially, acceptance highlights the ways we are different.
So, What is Autism Acceptance?
Acceptance is saying I see you, I acknowledge your strengths and your challenges, and I value you as a person. Acceptance requires listening to the autistic community’s voices. Listening to what a neurodiverse individual has to say is an important step in becoming an ally.
One of the greatest challenges and sources of pain for my autistic clients is that people misinterpret them. It’s particularly painful for neurodivergent people when they have good intentions, but people assume they have ill will. Unfortunately, this happens often for autistic people. It can invalidate their inner experience, and feel like gaslighting. Also, it can be very confusing and lead autistic people to have self-doubts and question their self-worth.
Unfortunately, this happens often for autistic people. Constantly being misunderstood may invalidate their inner experience. It also can be very confusing. Many individuals with autism often question their own self-worth. Sadly, this can lead to a variety of other mental health concerns including anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship issues, and loneliness.
How to Show Acceptance
Get to know individuals with autism.
Getting to know an autistic person as an individual and showing genuine interest in hearing about their experience as a neurodivergent person, creates a sense of acceptance. So, try to understand the world through their perspective. Do this without judging them or applying your own biases. Naturally, you may interpret other people through a neurotypical lens. You might have underlying assumptions about human behavior. But, when you apply these assumptions to autistic people, you might end up misunderstanding them and missing out on an opportunity to get to know an amazing person. Taking the time to learn about what their behavior means for them, can help you accurately read them. This will lead to fewer miscommunications and increase safety and trust in your relationship. This will go a long way to helping an autistic person in your life feel safe and accepted.
Avoid ableist language.
Another thing you need to be sensitive to is the language you use when speaking with someone who is autistic. Saying things like “you don’t seem autistic” is hurtful. And, it can be very invalidating. I realize you may be saying this in a well-meaning way. Perhaps you’re trying to help an autistic individual feel included and like you and your peers. But unfortunately, it comes off as insulting, invalidating, and ableist. Ableist language implies that a disabled person is inferior to a non-disabled person. It can insinuate that being autistic is not something you should be proud of. And that’s not true. Remember, the goal is inclusivity and acceptance, so accepting a person’s autistic identity is crucial.
Educate yourself on neurodiversity.
Lastly, another powerful thing you can do to support individuals with autism is to educate yourself and ask questions when appropriate. Even if you lack relatable lived experience, you can still listen to a neurodivergent person with genuine openness and validate their feelings. Validating a neurodivergent person’s feelings goes a long way to helping them feel accepted. When you can relate to how they’re feeling or the struggle they’re facing, you can then empathize with them. This can help give them a sense of connection and belonging. If you’re looking for neurodiversity resources here are a few that are informative. Also, our blogs and autism resource page contain a lot of information that you might find useful in your autism education.
- Spectrum News
- Asperger/Autism Network (AANE)
- Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN)
- Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN)
Stay tuned for parts two and three of this series. Autism acceptance for autism parents and autism acceptance for neurotypical partners.
Begin Online Autism Therapy:
If you’re autistic or looking for autism therapy for your loved one, we would be honored to speak with you and discuss our services. We offer online autism therapy to anyone living in the state of California. To get started, follow these steps:
- Contact us for a free phone consultation using this link. You will meet with our client care coordinator.
- Like us on Facebook. On our page, we post useful information about our practice
- Sign up to receive our newsletter.
Other Services offered at Open Doors Therapy:
Our autism therapy clinic located in the South Bay Area serves teens and adults on the spectrum. We help high functioning individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed ASD traits, and their families.
Right now, we are providing all our autism counseling services online. Our autism therapists offer a variety of counseling services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. Also, we run several different social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, neurodiverse adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college, teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Contact our therapy office for more information on our services or to schedule a consultation.
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is also is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice specializing in autism therapy services in the South Bay Area, near San Francisco, CA. Dr. Oswald specializes in helping neurodiverse teens and adults and facilitating social skills groups.