“The purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs; it’s to evolve our beliefs.” – Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist, Author
I’m an autistic ally, so I don’t want my voice to be heard over the voices of autistics – especially this month, Autism Acceptance Month, but rather alongside in support. Key Assets Kentucky commits to supporting autistic individuals and their families throughout the year, not just in April. Through assessment, therapy, case management, and community-based residential programming, we commit to learning and re-learning what we think we know about supporting autistics and to be open to changing our beliefs based on listening to the lived experience of autistics.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the prevalence of Autism in children is now 1 in 36. Just two years ago, it was 1 in 44. So, is this good news or bad? I believe it’s good news since this may mean more autistic children are potentially being assessed and diagnosed sooner, therefore, accessing ADA-mandated services and supports in their schools, community, and homes at an earlier age.
In my opinion, these numbers do not mean we have an “autism epidemic.” Some who use this term are either trying to sensationalize autism or looking for a cure and/or eliminate autism. Those of us who consider ourselves autistic allies are not about curing or eliminating autism! We learn how neurodivergent individuals’ needs may differ – not negatively – and how we can support and accommodate so we can all benefit from the amazing contributions of autistic individuals. I genuinely believe when we can help all individuals achieve their full potential, EVERYONE benefits.
I am relatively new at being an autistic ally and advocate. Based on my experience, we need to take this new information regarding the prevalence of autism and use it to improve the lives of autistic individuals. First, we need to increase the opportunities for autistic self-advocates to provide input into the resources and supports required for all settings – school, home, work, and community. Second, we must ensure equitable and accessible screening, services, and support for all children AND adults. We know that although we are working hard to provide early screening and diagnosis to children, we are missing autistic adults who were not diagnosed in their childhood and who are in serious need of support, i.e., workplace, housing, and transportation. Lastly, we need to increase the number of providers supporting autistics humanely and compassionately. This will take a collective effort among federal and state programs, i.e., public health, disability services, education, and health and human services, to recognize the need for increased funding and service provision, especially in rural areas.
From the autistic self-advocate perspective, here is a statement by the Autistic Self-Advocate Network: ASAN Statement on Updated Autism Diagnosis Numbers – Autistic Self Advocacy Network (autisticadvocacy.org).
This month, I’m challenging each of us to listen to those with lived experience – not with sympathy or pity but with a sense of curiosity and desire to learn. Let’s work hard to create a foundation of humility, curiosity, willingness, respect, self-determination, and autonomy. For more information about how to move from kindness and compassion to these critical foundational approaches, read more here: Teal and Blue Duo Tone Seamless Content Ideas Carousel Instagram Post (neuroclastic.com)
Author: Jennifer Hall, Executive Director – Key Assets Kentucky