4/07/2015

Autism Acceptance Month Links: On Acceptance

April has been dubbed Autism Awareness Month, but most people these days are aware that autism exists. However, they may not know much about what autism is, what it's like to have autism, or what autistic people need. Moreover, they likely remain blissfully unaware of the stigma that denies autistic people equal access to education, work, friendship, medical care, and even freedom from abuse and filicide.  Thus, I and many others instead observe Autism Acceptance Month.



What acceptance means can be difficult to define. We do not wish to "love the person, hate the autism," which is as far from real acceptance as "love the person, hate the gay" or "love the person, hate the Jew." Neither, however, do we wish to deny that autism can involve real impairments--weaknesses in various abilities that create needs for services and accommodations which others may not require. Many people struggle with how to accept the whole person, autism and all, while acknowledging that its effects are not always or entirely positive for every person.

Moreover, talk of acceptance can often be abstract, and leave unanswered some important questions: 
  • How does an accepting parent talk to, talk about, and discipline their child?
  • How does an accepting parent or teacher set reasonable expectations, providing enough challenges to respect the child and stretch their capabilities, without demoralizing them by demanding they do things they can't yet?
  • What is an accepting way to deal with challenges like meltdowns, self-injurious behavior, or difficulties coping with everyday stressful situations (e.g., going to the grocery store or school assemblies)?
  • What is an accepting way to teach skills, like daily living/self care skills and getting along with nonautistic peers?
  • What does education based on acceptance look like?
  • What do accepting services look like?
  • What does an accepting workplace look like?
  • What does an accepting friend do? (And what should we teach nondisabled children about how to be a good friend?).
  • What does an accepting romantic partner do?
Fortunately, people have started addressing these questions. This post includes the blog posts that I think best explain what acceptance is, how it differs from awareness, and why it's important. Next week's links will discuss accepting parenting, the week after will focus on acceptance in education and services, and the last week of April's will examine acceptance in the media and broader culture. 

What is acceptance and how is it different from awareness?
Autism Acceptance Is... by Alyssa
"We need to be accepted for who we are. We need to hear that we're OK, we need to hear that the things we have trouble with don't make us broken or lazy or horrible people...We need people to listen when we say we need help, and we need people to listen when we say we don't. We need to be taken as the whole people that we are, and we need to be met with the understanding that we are the experts in our own lives and abilities...Regardless of neurology, people need those things. Autism Acceptance is just reminding us that Autistic people are people, and that as such, we need these things too."
Companion piece: Autism Acceptance is Not by Alyssa
It's not acceptance, as in the stage of grief.

And speaking of stages, this image shared by Kezza shows what the journey to acceptance looks like for some autistic people and parents:


"When I look at those teachers who were most impactful in my life...they were the ones who treated me with compassion and acceptance. Teaching me to work with my differences instead of against them made a massive acceptance in how I approach life, how I value myself, and how far I've been able to get in life. ...Those who did not honor my differences, who held as their goal the idea that I should be made more 'normal,' more 'indistinguishable from my peers,' were not the ones who made the difference. In fact...their approach harmed me, in many ways."

Acceptance as taking the third glance and seeing who a person really is, "because everyone deserves to be seen."

Scroll down to the lists by Julia Bascom, Lydia Brown, Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, Shannon Des Roches Rosa, Liz Ditz, Todd Drezner, Paula C. Durbin-Westby, Carol Greenberg,Jennifer Byde Myers, Ari Ne'eman, Stephen Shore, Kassiane Sibley, Nick Walker, Garret Westlake, Emily Willingham.


@Theoriesofminds' storify (summary) of a Twitter discussion, #AcceptanceMeans.

The Joy of Acceptance by Alex Forshaw
"Acceptance...creates a sense of safety: it allows me to feel that I don't need to hide behiind masking behaviors. I don't need to watch every single move I make, everything I say, in case I let my guard down and draw attention. I am free to act naturally, to truly be myeslf without fear of being mocked,c criticized, or otherwise made to feel that the way I am is somehow 'wrong.' That is acceptance. What does it require of other people for acceptance to happen? Not much--only that they allow me to live my life my own way. So long as it doesn't harm them, what possible problem could they have with that?"
What acceptance is not by Musings of an Aspie
"Acceptance is not giving up. Acceptance is not doing nothing. Acceptance is not what happens after you've fixed someone to your liking. Acceptance is not throwing away all manners, education, skills, and coping strategies."
Acceptance is the Opposite of Giving Up by Real Social Skills
"Acceptance isn't about denying that some aspects of disability can be awful, and it's not about categorically rejecting medical treatment. It's about working with yourself rather than against yourself, and pursuing life now rather than waiting for a cure."
The people who show me the difference between awareness and acceptance by Karen Copeland
"When I think about our champions, I realize they, too, accept our child and our family for who we are. They help us identify our strengths and our gifts. They encourage us to embrace our challenges and meet them with strength and confidence. They let us know it's OK to be different and do things differently...You see, it wasn't until we started accepting our child for who he is--his strengths, gifts, and challenges--that we started to experience success. It was when we stopped trying to make him become who we...wanted him to be that the real change started to happen."

Why autism acceptance? by the Autism Society
"Acceptance...is the first step to building true understanding and inclusion...individuals with autism are and should be recognized as valuable members of our families, schools, workplaces, faith communities, and neighborhoods...Acceptance reinforces that not only do autistic individuals have equal rights, but they are equal in worth and have just as much value to society as any other member."
"Acceptance isn't passive. Acceptance isn't 'giving up.' ...Acceptance is looking at your child and seeing exactly who they are...and loving them for exactly who they are right now. Acceptance means meeting your autistic child where they are right now, accommodating their needs and growing their strengths, so that your child can grow up to become a happy, healthy autistic person who can trust and love the people around them."
Don't mourn for us by Jim Sinclair (a classic)
"You lost a child because the child you waited for never came into existence. That isn't the fault of the autistic child who does exist... We need and deserve families who can see us and value us for ourselves, not families whose vision of us is obscured by the ghosts of children who never lived. Grieve if you must, for your own lost dreams. But don't mourn for us. We are alive. We are real. And we're here waiting for you."

"These are some reflections that helped me reach a place of peace and optimism and perhaps can be of benefit for others, too."
Your Children are Listening by Unstrange Mind
"Your children are listening. Stop thinking about how hard all of this is for you and think about how hard it is for your children. You have the difficult struggle of raising a disabled child. Your child has the life-long struggle of feeling like they never should have been born."

Acceptance as a Well-Being Practice by Musings of an Aspie
"For most of my life, my view of myself was predicated on what I had achieved...my fragile self-esteem was buttressed by a constant need to outdo myself...Acceptance meant embracing myself as I am, in the present. It meant letting go of the idea that I would some day magically become a more competent, mature, socially adept version of myself. It meant acknowledging that I'm not perfect, and, more importantly, I don't need to be...Acceptance...means unconditionally embracing yourself as you are."
Focusing on Assets, Building on Strengths by Musings of an Aspie
"Imagine that child moving through school, trailing this long list of things he can't do behind him. That's twelve-plus years of people emphasizing what he's bad at and what he neds to fix. If he's lucky, he has at least one cheerleader in his corner, telling him what he's good at. Because when he sits down to fill out his college applications or goes for his first job interview, no one is going to ask him what his worst subject is or what he can't do. Transitioning into adult life requires knowing your assets. The tension between building on assets versus fixing deficits is at the core of what we face as autistic people living in a neurotypical world...My social skills are never going to pass for neurotypical...building on assets feels more doable, and ultimately better for my self-esteem. If I'm working from strength...I have a foundation, no matter how small, to build myself up from."

Lastly...
"If autistic people were accepted we would not need Autism Awareness Month." -Michelle Sutton