Autism Awareness and Acceptance: Celebrating Neurodiversity

Autism Awareness and Acceptance: Celebrating Neurodiversity

Autism awareness and acceptance is celebrated in April and honours the diversity and culture of the autistic community while also encouraging acceptance and understanding towards them. With awareness comes acceptance and so it’s important to first understand what autism is and then implement autism acceptance in both practical and structural ways. Awareness of common autism symptoms is a must — delayed language, movement and cognitive skills, hyperactive, impulsive and/or inattentive behaviour, epilepsy or seizures, unusual eating and sleeping habits as well as unusual mood or emotional reactions. The 5 major types of autism are Rett syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, Kanner’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder.

Autism Acceptance in Families

The most critical autism awareness and acceptance starts in the family itself as that significantly impacts the autistic person’s sense of self worth and self esteem. A family should create a supportive and safe environment at home that is conducive to neurodivergent communication, connection and sensory regulation. It’s important to recognize and accept neurodiversity and realise that each individual’s needs and strengths are different.

What we can do:

  • Normalise stimming like rocking or hand-flapping
  • Create a sensory-safe place where the person can go for a sensory-detox
  • Support their interests and go for object-based conversations rather than social-based conversations
  • Create a predictable environment and routine
  • Educate yourself about different neurologies so that you know how their needs differ and how they process information.
  • Support LGBTQIA+ identities
  • Have a look at your own possible neurodivergence as it can help you to connect with your child and understand them.

Autism Acceptance in the Classroom

Autistic students are most likely to have different needs and learning styles from their neurotypical peers and autism acceptance in the classroom would mean creating an environment that not only  accommodates multiple neurotypes, it also respects them.

What we can do:

  • Normalise stimming
  • Embrace whole-body listening like fidgeting, doodling and moving their bodies
  • Reduce visual clutter as it can cause a sensory overload
  • Create a sensory-safe place where the person can go for a sensory-detox
  • Accommodate them like allowing them to use the bathroom when urgently needed
  • Give clear and precise instructions and offer templates and examples whenever possible
  • Provide visual aids and written instructions
  • Provide noise-cancelling headphones or fidget toys
  • Encourage any special interests
  • Be mindful of sensory sensitivities during classroom activities
  • Break large projects down into smaller tasks

Autism Acceptance in Therapy

Many autistic people go for therapy not only to cope with the challenges of autism in a so-called normal world but to address conditions like depression, anxiety or PTSD. A therapist may not always be trained for autism therapy in a way that recognises their differences. Autism is not a problem that needs to be cured, it’s a neurodivergent identity that is as valuable as any others and they need to be supported in achieving their goals for a quality life.

What we can do:

  • Consider autism as an identity rather than a disorder.
  • Provide a calm and sensory-safe therapy environment
  • Encourage stimming and sensory exploration in sessions
  • Reduce social-based conversations and things like eye contact and small talk
  • Accommodate interoception differences
  • Consider alternative communication methods like chat, music, writing, art and photos
  • Educate yourself on non-stereotypical presentations of women, genderqueer, BIPOC etc.
  • Advocate neurodiversity by supporting them in developing self-advocacy skills and educating parents.
  • Accept neurodivergent communication style
  • Be aware of neurodivergent trauma like sensory or social trauma

Autism Acceptance in Medical Settings

Medical settings can seem extremely overwhelming and challenging to someone with autism as they may experience sensory overload. Often due to insufficient knowledge, apathy and misunderstandings about autism, the patient may  be misdiagnosed or receive inadequate treatment. Many with autism have complex or chronic medical conditions so it’s important to create a more inclusive and accessible healthcare system.

What we can do:

  • Use written forms, communication apps or visual aids for communication
  • Allow for an extended appointment time if required
  • Provide sensory-friendly waiting and exam rooms
  • Allow them to record their visits so they can listen to it later when calmer
  • Consider and support co-occurring conditions
  • Provide gender-affirming care

Autism Acceptance in The Workplace

Autistic people can bring a lot to the workplace with their skills and strengths but are often unutilised due to sensory and communication barriers they may face in the workplace. The workplace needs to create a culture that both values and respects diverse brain styles — sensory-friendly workspaces, alternative communication methods or flexible schedules.

What we can do:

  • Offer noise-cancelling headphones and fidget toys
  • Educate co-workers, supervisors and managers about neurodiversity
  • Utilise their interests and strengths
  • Clearly communicate what is expected from them
  • Provide flexible hours and work environments
  • Include multiple options for communication
  • Allow for sensory breaks and provide workspace options
  • Give notice in advance of schedule changes where possible

Autism Acceptance in Society

Autistic people face a lot of stigma in society due to a lack of understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity. Autism awareness and acceptance means embracing neurodiversity as a normal way of being in the world. It would include doing away with harmful stereotypes about autism — lack of empathy or inability to form meaningful relationships. Policy changes that support autistic requirements and rights are needed. Policies to promote their voices in media and public spaces and educate others about neurodiversity and its benefits would be required. Education and employment opportunities, provision for sensory needs in public spaces and medical care that respects the autistic individual is what we should be looking at.

What we can do:

  • Support laws and policies that support LGBTQIA+ and their families
  • Value neurodiversity
  • Promote neurodiversity in the media and challenge stereotypes
  • Listen to autistic voices in decision-making
  • Listen to autistic voices in decision-making
  • Equal opportunities should be given in education, employment and public spaces for autistic individuals

Autism Acceptance in Research

Research has excluded or marginalised autistic individuals from research to a large extent with little or no consideration given to their perspectives. The movement to include research in meaningful ways is gaining momentum and now instead of trying to ‘cure’ autism, it focuses on promoting their well being.

What we can do:

  • Increase accessibility of research instruments to underrepresented autistic people
  • Avoid stigmatising language in research
  • A percentage of research should give priority to autistic needs
  • Include them in all research and its implementation
  • Accessible formats to cater to autism should be used for all research findings

Autism awareness and acceptance is the first step towards an inclusive society. It goes beyond just acknowledging autism, it is an inclusive mindset that values and reinforces the dignity and contributions of autistic individuals. Contact EuroKids  for insight on creating a more inclusive world for neurodiversity which celebrates and values it.