April 17, 2024

What parents want you to know about Autism Acceptance Month

Autism impacts each person differently.
Autism is not a one-size fits all diagnosis. Some children or adults are non-verbal, some have sensory issues, and some have behavioral issues. When you hear that someone has autism, don’t jump to a conclusion based on preconceived notions. Have an open mind and learn what makes that person unique. Find ways to welcome and include them.

Ignore the stereotypes.
Although there are some similar learning profiles for individuals on the spectrum, the adage “If you have met one child with autism, you have met one child with autism” is so true. Each individual has a unique personality including strengths, preferences, dislikes, hobbies, and sense of humor. Refrain from buying into the stereotypes; take the time to get to know each individual you meet on a personal level.

Our children want to be included.
Even though my son isn’t super social, he still wants to be included. Children with autism don’t always understand what it takes to build and maintain friendships, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying. Please don’t forget about them when you’re setting up play dates and planning birthday parties.

Adults with autism need to be included, too.
Adults with autism do not have nearly the same opportunities in life as their nondisabled peers. People tend to reduce them to their disability label, and they often have limited experiences to choose from. We need greater investment in community integration opportunities, whether it’s transition services, life skills training, supported employment, or other resources that help people feel a sense of belonging.

Autism can be an invisible struggle.
My daughter struggles with anxiety and deep emotions. Many situations are overwhelming for her, especially loud, crowded areas. She’s not being dramatic – her brain and nervous system are wired differently. That intense feeling you get when you come across your worst fear is something individuals with autism deal with every day.

Don’t overlook children with lower support needs.
Autism doesn’t always indicate a non-verbal child or a child with challenging behaviors. Some children have more sophisticated language. They may not react as strongly to stressors or sensory input, so they blend in with their peers. My son attends public school and if I didn’t advocate for interventions, he’d be overlooked. He too needs support to reach his full potential.

My child isn’t being rude.
My son doesn’t understand social norms. He has a hard time interpreting what someone is thinking or feeling, and his tone can come across as blunt. If he doesn’t look you in the eye or show a lot of expression, don’t mistake it for rudeness. He just has a different way of communicating and it’s something I’ve grown to appreciate. Does anyone actually enjoy making small talk?

My child doesn’t need to be disciplined.
When my son has a meltdown, it’s a cry for help. His nervous system is overloaded, and he can’t control his reaction. I can feel people judging my parenting. My son isn’t being manipulative – he’s highly distressed and needs compassion, not discipline.

Autism can look different in girls.
There’s a reason autism is associated with the color blue, but girls can be impacted by autism as well. Girls tend to do a better job at masking their social difficulties. They’re more likely to be labeled as shy or anxious. When girls with autism don’t get diagnosed, they miss out on the support they need to understand their struggles and thrive in life.

See the person behind the diagnosis.
My son is not autistic; he has autism. He is a young man, full of hope and fear and joy and sadness. He also has a disability. See him for what he is, not for what you think he should be.