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Autism Acceptance

April is Autism Acceptance Month.

Autism Acceptance

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a “developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.”  It is a spectrum that includes those with significant intellectual disability to those with a genius I.Q., so it is sometimes not apparent to others, until one notices that their interaction seems to be different.  There is not just one cause of autism, but it is known that biological, genetic, and environmental factors play a part. Many people feel that conversation may seem awkward, as if unsure of how to connect with others comfortably.  In my experience, this seems to be one of the primary concerns of those with autism, as everyone wants just to fit in and not seem too different from others, especially during childhood and adolescence.  However, I have worked with many adults who struggle with wanting to be accepted and not stand out due to their autism. 

Unfortunately, we live in a world where “different” is often perceived as “wrong.”  This makes it so much more difficult for someone with autism to be accepted as just as important, with as much to offer, as those without this disorder.  Many of us, including me, have someone in the family or a close friend who is on the spectrum, so I am hopeful that this can help increase understanding and empathy for others.

Some children show ASD symptoms within the first 12 months of life. In others, symptoms may not show up until 24 months of age or later.  It can last a lifetime, but symptoms can improve over time.  In my practice I have worked with adults who knew that “something seemed off” but didn’t have a name for it and had never been diagnosed even if symptoms were noticeable for most of their life. 

Autism presents a set of challenges that can be quite difficult to manage.  Those with severe autism with significant intellectual impairment need constant care and will need this for the rest of their lives.  This comes as quite a challenge for caregivers.  Those who are considered “high functioning” have their own set of challenges, including social communication and interaction. People with ASD may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention.  These factors can impede finding employment and a strong social network, leaving them feeling lonely and isolated. 

Current treatments for ASD seek to reduce symptoms that interfere with daily functioning and quality of life, but there are things any of us can do to help. 

  • Improving our perspective and interactions with people who may seem different than others doesn’t have to be difficult. 
  • Avoid making blanket judgments and assumptions.  Keep in mind that autism is not all they are, only part of who they are as a person, just like people are not only tall, skinny, blue-eyed, etc. 
  • Someone with autism may be very sensitive to things that others don’t notice, such as light and sounds, and these can be triggering events.  Demonstrating compassion and understanding and helping someone work through these triggers can be very effective.   
  • Often thinking is very concrete, so things are taken literally, as figurative concepts are difficult to recognize.  This can easily lead to misunderstandings and interpreted as being sarcastic or uncaring, so clarification is often necessary.
  • Understand the difference between being unable to do or relate to something versus choosing not to do so, avoiding assumptions, and engaging accordingly.  Focusing on the positives and abilities rather than inability helps someone feel appreciated. 

Ultimately, it all goes back to what we learned in kindergarten: treat others how you want to be treated.  This will make the world a better place for everyone!

By: Sara Ritter, Behavioral Health Provider

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