Tomorrow is Autism Acceptance Day. You might know it as Autism Awareness Day, but like a lot of others, I have chosen to change the name. I think most of us are aware of autism by this point. The next step is acceptance, and that is a step not only for the general public for but many of us personally. Or at least it is for me.
I struggled for a long time with the idea of autism acceptance. My reasons were many, but there were lots of times I heard that term and said to myself "Never! Accept autism? That's not going to happen!" I always told myself it had nothing to do with accepting JANEY, it has to do with accepting her autism. However, I think I'm finally there. I've figured out what autism acceptance means to me.
Autism acceptance doesn't mean liking the tough parts of autism, or NOT liking the great parts.
When Janey bites herself or others, or when she cries for hours on end for reasons we don't understand, acceptance doesn't mean not trying to help her to feel better and stop hurting herself or others. It DOES mean accepting that those behaviors are part of how autism affects her. It means not denying the parts of autism that are so tough, not writing them out of the story to make autism more palatable.
When Janey is delightful, amazing, hilarious, autism acceptance doesn't mean that I can't enjoy the positive effects of autism. I don't have to say "Janey is wonderful DESPITE her autism". I can say "Janey is wonderful partly BECAUSE of her autism" That's a tough one for most people to take, somehow. But when Janey recites dialogue amazingly well, when she learns songs instantly and sings them so well, when she snuggles us without the typical pre-teen reserve---I accept that those behaviors are part of her autism, and I love them.
Autism acceptance applies to ALL parts of the spectrum.
This year, when the press decides to showcase people with autism, I wish for every Temple Grandin, for every child that has written a book or learned to type and give us all insights into their world, they would also showcase a child on the lower end of the spectrum, like Janey. I don't accept Janey conditionally, and I dream of a world that doesn't accept people with autism because they have or might someday do something amazing. Janey and and the children of my friends around the world with a child with low-functioning autism deserve to be accepted and to have their lives made as meaningful and joyful as possible.
Autism acceptance also applies to acceptance of a family's choices
It is very hard to see how fragmented and politically correct and potentially trigger-filled the world of autism is. Part of what I think we all need to accept is that we've all made different choices in how we deal with the autism. Some people embrace ABA. Others do Floortime. Others have put their children on special diets. Some use vitamin supplements. Some use medication. Some homeschool. Some have children in residential placements. There are an amazing number of ways to educate and medicate and provide therapy to children with autism. We might feel strongly our way is the best, but we need to accept another family might not feel that way, and as long as we all have the goal of helping our child live a happier and healthier life, these issues should not divide us.
I will close with a video a lot of you have already seen, as I put it on my Facebook page. It's Janey surprising me with a different message than the one I asked her to give---I asked her to say "Happy Autism Acceptance Day!" but her Boston and 1/8th Irish got the better of her! She also says in the video "I have autism" I love her sweet voice as she says that. I used to avoid using the word "autism" around her, but I have decided that's not at all what I should do. I accept Janey's autism as part of the amazing little girl she is. I love you, Janey.
Here's the video!