April is Autism Acceptance month. You’ve likely seen posts on social media: ribbons with puzzle pieces, multicolored infinity symbols or messages to “light it up blue”. You may have seen posts for Autism Awareness month, but at ELI we’re choosing to follow the lead of Autistic Adults and move away from awareness and toward acceptance. As stated beautifully by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, “acceptance is an action.” Moving from awareness toward acceptance requires us to acknowledge how we are the same and how we are different. We all have our humanity in common; we want to connect with others and with our world. But how we do that is different because our brains are different. That is our neurodiversity and we think that should be celebrated. How do we do this? Well, it might look different in our different homes, but we can all start by learning from autistic people and listening to #ActuallyAutistic voices.
There have been many posts and articles written about why this is important. Follow groups on social media and familiarize yourself with individuals or groups that have created a platform to share their experiences, ideas or advocacy efforts. Search the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag on your favorite social media platform.
So let’s talk about what might be making you hesitate.
If you feel like Autistic self-advocates don’t speak for your family, or understand your experience, you’re right. No one knows your family’s experience. You know your child.
But as parents, we are always learning about our kids; likes and dislikes, comforts and annoyances.
If you had the chance to learn more about what it is like to walk in your child’s shoes, why not take it? As parents, we turn to other parents walking in our shoes because we have shared experiences. It helps. But when it comes to understanding the experience of our kids, let’s turn to others walking in their shoes. If we choose to accept autism, we choose to listen to others’ experiences and respect differences of opinions. That is part of embracing our humanity and neurodiversity. We can only understand one another, when we listen to one another.
If you read perspectives from Autistic Advocates and you feel defensive or dismissive, sit with that for a minute.
We are not suggesting that every autistic adult was once a child just like yours. But we are suggesting that every autistic adult was once an autistic child. So if you feel the feelings of “you don’t know my child” or “you don’t know my family”, ask yourself why you feel that way. Is it the message or is it what it brings up for us as parents when we feel judged or questioned. It’s fair to feel that way. Sit with it, identify it, and then decide how you want to move forward for your child.
If neurotypical people only listen to neurotypical people then how will we learn about our neurodivergent children’s minds? I will listen to #ActuallyAutistic voices because I want my children to know that their voice is heard, valued and respected.