What I want you to know about autism
I have had the privilege of getting to know thousands of autistic people over the last 10 years. On World Autism Acceptance Day, I wanted to share with you what I have learned from autistic people:
1. Listen to autistic voices
I am thankful that you are reading my blog, but I also encourage you to spend some time reading, watching, and listening to content from autistic people. It is critical that any conversation about autism considers autistic voices. A few of my favourites include Rachel Dorsey, Autistic SLP, Amythest Schaber, Autistic Youtuber, The Autistic OT, and Not An Autism Mom.
2. "If you know 1 person with autism you know 1 person with autism"
Most people are familiar with this saying, but I feel it needs to be repeated! Autism is a spectrum which means that there is a wide range of how people experience autism. Just because you have met a person with autism, does not mean that you "know autism." Each person with autism is unique in their strengths, needs, and experiences. It is important to embrace neurodiversity (different ways that brains work/process information).
Along the same lines, please remember that autism may not be something you can see. Some of the differences that come with autism may not be easy to identify, or may be hidden.
3. Autistic people are accommodating for neurotypical people ALL THE TIME!
We often talk about accessibility and accommodation in terms of how, as a neurotypical person, we can accommodate for differences associated with autism. A perspective that is rarely given is that autistic people are accommodating every day all day. Consider how exhausting it must be for an autistic person to feel like they need to appear more neurotypical by not stimming, looking people in the eyes, not talking too much about their favourite things, not getting too distracted by all the sensory stimuli in their environment, etc. We MUST work towards being more accepting of the different ways that people process their environment and take on more of the load when it comes to being truly accommodating (e.g., reducing noise, not requiring eye contact, allowing for stimming, starting with strengths and interests, etc.)
4. Autism is not a gift or a curse - it's just a different way of being.
While I have previously shared many of the "superpowers" that can come with autism, autistic voices have spoken clearly that considering autism a gift or a superpower diminishes the challenges they experience on a daily basis. I continue to utilize a strengths-based approach and will always celebrate the amazing differences I see everyday, but I strive to also honour that those strengths may come with challenges that make daily living harder for autistic people. So if autism isn't a superpower, is it a curse? No, I 100% do not believe autism is a curse. It is sometimes hard for families to get the initial autism diagnosis because it changes what they envisioned for their child. It can also be difficult because many families do not have a lot of experience with autism and therefore do not know what to expect and the unknown can be scary. What I want people to know is that autism is a different way of experiencing the world, it is an intrinsic part of who they are.
5. Not being able to speak is not the same as not having something to say.
As a speech-language pathologist, I would be remiss to write a blog about autism without including this important point! Many autistic people are non-speaking, but that does not mean they do not have ideas or interests they want to share with you! I have had the privilege of hearing many of these through sign language/gestures, pictures, or speech generating devices. I have also had kids pass me notes to say that they want something when they couldn't tell me verbally! Make sure that you provide an opportunity to hear from autistic people and don't just assume that they don't want to participate in your conversation because they are non-speaking.
So, today, on World Autism Acceptance Day, let's work on creating a world where diversity is not only accepted but also celebrated!