Everyone knows that April is Autism Awareness Month. We post pictures, memes, links to articles, and blog posts, all in the hopes of increasing awareness. This year there has been a lot of disagreement and hurt feelings within the autism community. People with autism who want to be accepted as they are. Parents who talk about the pain and trials of having a child on the spectrum. Differing opinions–none more right or wrong than another. All valid in their own right.
The most encouraging thing I’ve heard this month is about a movement to change some of the language we use, from awareness to acceptance. A great next step, in my opinion, but much more difficult to achieve. It’s one thing for people to be aware that autism exists. It’s quite another for people to accept people with autism into their lives in a true, meaningful way.
Autism is not simple or easy to understand, let alone accept. If you have a child or sibling with autism, or teach children with autism, you are confronted with the meaning and breadth of autism every day. For soccer coaches, classmates, and that ever-present judgmental lady in the grocery store, autism is much more difficult to understand. Those of us ‘in the know’ share information and insight as much as we can.
I am one of the lucky ones. My family has been so incredibly accepting of my kids. My mom is an educator, and each time she runs across something that might be worth considering she sends it my way (Some of her ideas I actually have not seen before, which is somewhat impossible for me since I am the self-proclaimed queen of googling). My dad makes incredible efforts to connect with my kids on their level. They are endlessly patient and accepting. Sometimes I think they understand my kids better than I do. My sister and her family are so sweet to my kids. They can’t wait to visit with them and are endlessly amused (in a good way) with all the quirky things they say and do.
My aunt and uncle are kind and generous. It gives them no greater pleasure than to shop for our weird foods and to watch my kids swim in their pool 3 million times over a four-day period. Swimming pools are so great for kids on the spectrum, but I digress. My 88-year-old grandmother is a bleeding-heart who accepts EVERYONE for who they are. When we visit with her she is patient and waits for the right time to go in. She has meaningful relationships with both of my kids, because they know that she loves them for exactly who they are.
Around my family my kids can simply be who they are. There is no stress to do what is expected, because they are just expected to be who they are. They are truly accepted.
That is the upside to the increase in children diagnosed with autism. The more children who are diagnosed, the more likely it is to know a child or adult with autism. The more people who know someone with autism, the easier it will be for others in our communities to truly understand and accept them. That’s the goal anyway, I think.
So consider me as having jumped on the bandwagon of autism acceptance as the next step. My family is amazing, I know. To say we are lucky is an understatement. The only sane thing to do is to assume that other people will be just as amazing when given the opportunity.