April is Autism Acceptance Month

By Carol Quirk

Please join MCIE and our Autistic colleagues and friends as we celebrate and appreciate the gifts of autism.

This month we move from autism “awareness” (who isn’t aware of autism?) to acceptance and appreciation. To support this shift, our friends at ASAN have created a dedicated website for Autism Acceptance Month, which provides unique programming every April focused on promoting acceptance and inclusion, and changing the dialogue about autism from fear, pity, and tragedy to support, acceptance, and empowerment.

To show our acceptance, we SHOW RESPECT! We recognize that many - if not most - parents refer to their students “with autism” because the developmental disabilities community fought long and hard to be recognized as PEOPLE FIRST and not just a label. We accept that struggle and understand that view. To show our acceptance, we also recognize the view of individuals living the autistic experience. As Lydia Brown, an Autistic lawyer, notes: “when we say ‘Autistic person,’ we recognize, affirm, and validate an individual’s identity as an Autistic person. We recognize the value and worth of that individual as an Autistic person — that being Autistic is not a condition absolutely irreconcilable with regarding people as inherently valuable and worth something.” We also see that many young Autistic people – some who speak and some who do not have verbal communication – refer to themselves regularly as Autistic. Emma is one of them! We at MCIE value the people living the experience, and so honor that language preference.

So – how else do we act to accept? LISTEN AND LEARN! I met Sue Rubin several years ago. We were both on the Board of Directors of a national disability organization. Sue cannot speak, but she can communicate through typing. However, she REALLY needs a support person next to her, encouraging her, so she can get through the stress and “work” of communication in each particular situation. Here is a very short clip of her typing, providing her a “voice” to communicate! We strive to learn and listen to nontraditional communication and behavior and encourage opportunities for our colleagues like Sue to be valued and included.

We show acceptance when we PRESUME COMPENTENCE. When we meet people, it is not uncommon to judge them based on appearances, and for non-autistic people, that judgment is usually based on typical societal expectations. A person with a disability may be judged by expectations based on typical speech and movement, social interactions, and behavior. And if those expectations are not met, then incompetence may be presumed, and our interactions become limited. In an education setting, a teacher may limit instruction, access to the curriculum, or supports for social interactions – unless they presume competence! When a teacher should presumes that all children can learn, regardless of communication and social differences or appearances, opportunities and access to a rich curriculum will be made. It also means that behaviors and sounds that might not be considered to be language are, in fact, a form of communication. Some ways we presume competence are to assume that a person with limited speech can understand the language of others and has something to say! We can speak directly to that person instead of to their support staff; we can give the person space to speak for themself instead of speaking for them. For more tips on how to presume competence check out Debra Muzikar’s 21 Tips for Presuming Competence.

Finally: we go to the people with direct experience with autism to know how to be an ally. See Things not to say to an Autistic person, or Autism Actually Speaking: High Functioning vs. Low Functioning or Amythyst Schaber’s vlogs such as “What is stimming?” Let’s build an inclusive society that values each and every one of us!