By Dawn M. Turnage, PhD, DNP, APRN, FNP-BCMay 10, 2021
In a recent conversation about the debate between awareness versus acceptance, my friend, Thomas Hassell reminded our group that, in this discussion, it has always been about acceptance. Wow. That sentence is profound. That sentence puts everything about the awareness versus acceptance discussion into perspective.
The need for acceptance is universal. We all want to feel included. A simple definition of acceptance means being suitable, or worthy, of inclusion in a group. To expand on this idea of inclusion, people also want to be seen for who they are, meaning that a person’s ability or disability is part of what makes them unique. All people deserve this level of dignity, to be seen and accepted for who they are.
Who can exercise acceptance? EVERYONE. We can all work to improve the way we interact with and accept autistic people.
How can people be better at acceptance?
Recognize any biases that we might have about autism.
What do you know or think you know about autism? Do you think that this information is accurate? Is this information based on your interactions with one person with autism? Is your information based on a movie or television portrayal of someone with autism? Chances are that your neighbor’s brother’s child with autism or the autistic surgeon on television do not represent the majority of autistic people. Seek out credible internet resources or, better yet, ask an autistic person. Every individual with autism has their own story to tell and their own perspectives.
Ask autistic people.
If you are not sure the best way to support someone with autism, ask them. They might have preferences about how they would like to be addressed related to autism (for example, “person with autism” or “autistic person”). They might need support in the way of more direct communication or keeping a routine and minimizing changes. Remember that every person is unique, and their needs and preferences will be different.
Include autistic people.
Remember that the key to acceptance is inclusion. Invite autistic people to social groups and volunteer or work opportunities. Ask and value their opinions. The unique and diverse strengths of others always make life richer!
Lead with kindness, always.
When interacting with anyone, it is always best to lead with kindness. Autistic people are genuine, and they also recognize and appreciate honesty and authentic conversation from others. Kindness goes a long way in accepting people.
When speaking to an autistic person, we need to assume that they are competent. Speak to them like you would anyone else and do not speak “down” to them. See all individuals for who they are, recognizing and respecting their unique strengths and contributions. Understanding the uniqueness of autistic people creates a safe and trusting space.
We all know the phrase, “If you’ve met one person with autism…you’ve met ONE person with autism, meaning that we are all different and have different personalities and different ways that autism is expressed. The degree of autism for each person on the spectrum is different. Take the time to get to know the person.
Model kindness, respect and acceptance.
When we model these behaviors, we are encouraging others to practice these behaviors. Kindness is contagious.
Every autistic person has unique strengths and challenges. Every person’s journey with autism is different. There are differing levels of the diagnosis of autism and all autistic individuals need different levels of support or accommodations. One thing that is consistent is that they all deserve acceptance.
While I have learned a great deal about autism through my work as a clinician and researcher, and also the mom to an amazing autistic kid, I recognize that I cannot speak for autistic people and I cannot speak to the firsthand experiences of people with autism. I am happy to have written this blog and I hope that it gives a better understanding of practical ways that people can exercise acceptance. I look forward to positive feedback and constructive comments on how we can support our friends, family, and colleagues with autism and create a more accepting environment.