April is Autism Acceptance Month. It is important to recognize the journey of the movement of Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance. Awareness leads you to believe there is a problem to be solved, but acceptance leads you to a discovery of diversity and strengths while bringing out the positive impact of recognizing autistics as whole persons. The movement to Autism Acceptance is simply to provide accurate information while sharing experiences that are as diverse as any individual truly is.
I thought it might be helpful to share a little about our own journey at Key Assets Kentucky. Key Assets Kentucky was opened in 2011, and I would say we have been on a journey since then to increase community-based services to individuals with autism and other disabilities, especially those in the foster care system. Some of our efforts have been more successful than others, even when our heart was truly in the right place, it was not enough. However, our vision has remained simple and unchanged: All individuals deserve to live and be a part of their community, to realize their full potential, to have the freedom to make choices and to be recognized by their strengths.
What has become more evident to me is that while I recognize I have much to learn about autism, I have not necessarily taken the best path to increasing my knowledge. Let me explain. I have recently joined a committee within the Kentucky Advisory Council on Autism, the Adolescent and Adult Subcommittee. This committee membership is made up of a variety of people: autistics/self-advocates, parents of autistics, and other professionals who are advocates for persons with autism. I am amazed at the number of professionals across Kentucky who work for programs run by state and local government, universities, non-profit and service organizations who have dedicated their lives to either persons with autism or persons with disabilities. However, I am most in awe of the autistic self-advocates who take the time to share their own very personal experiences so that we may understand the system failures and know where the barriers are. Their experiences are representative of many other autistics like them and they are their voice. They are teaching me that in order to learn, I need to listen (more). So, what am I learning? I am learning about the neurodiversity movement. The neurodiversity movement does not view disability as a problem to be solved but as a difference to be accommodated. The autistic is not a problem to be solved, rather we should all come to an understanding that people’s bodies and brains are different, and as a society, we should make the accommodations to allow for that individual to participate fully. Oftentimes our view of the person with autism is that they need to assimilate to the “norm”, however, we need to educate others in how we need to change the system, not the person.
So, this month, we will start our new journey in sharing a few personal stories from people we’ve either met in our own work or people who have shared their stories by writing blogs on topics that are meaningful to them as a person with autism. I hope what we will learn by the end of the month is that we are all more alike than we are different and oftentimes, those differences add value to a relationship, workplace and community.