Autism Acceptance Series Part II - Straight from the Source
Posted on 03/21/19 in Advocacy by Nera Birch
April is Autism Awareness Month. People will soon be dusting off their puzzle piece ribbons and holding fundraisers. Awareness is a great thing, but it’s not acceptance. Awareness to me is like putting a bandage on a severe wound. It’s a nice thought, but what good does it do? It can’t fix the issue. Acceptance can. There is nothing people want more in the world than to be accepted and that holds true, if not more so, for people on the spectrum.
It can be really difficult living in a world that wasn’t made for you. I struggle every single day with sensory overload and social skills. People with autism have to adapt constantly. I think a great way to accept people with autism is to adapt with them. For example, if you know someone has a sensory issue, try to stay away from it. I’m able to go to crowded and loud places, but I adapt greatly to do that. In exchange, my husband knows to make sure I have days where I don’t have any human interaction at all. His adaptation allows me to recharge.
You don’t have to understand why or how we do things. For me, acceptance is just letting me do those things. My husband doesn’t quite understand my rocking. It can get nuanced and there are differences between my happy, sad, and upset rocking that he, or probably anyone, can see. But he lets me rock. He usually checks in to find out what kind of rocking I’m doing and asks me if I need deep pressure, which helps me a lot when I’m upset. He also will hold me and rock with me if I want it. Other than that, I rock away. That is the kind of acceptance I crave. When I go out in public, I try really hard not to stim, because I don’t have that same acceptance from the outside world. I’ve been stared at and even had people think I was making fun of disabled people. Another huge piece of acceptance is to not judge people on the way they look. Just because I don’t look or seem autistic doesn’t mean that I’m not.
I’ve gone on a journey of self-acceptance as well. I learned to hide my autism in public which would lead to huge meltdowns once I got home. I was encouraged not to flap, stim, or talk to myself in public so I didn’t seem weird. I think that really hurt me in the long run. I’ve only recently started to let myself act autistic in front of people other than my family. If I get really excited about something at a store, I flap and jump. If I’m having a bad day, I’ll use whatever coping mechanism I need so I can complete my errands and get home. It is freeing and it helps immensely with the meltdowns. I no longer need to bottle things up and let them explode.
I’m very lucky to now work in a place and live with people where I can be as autistic as I need to be. I’ve had people walk in on me stimming and jumping and they don’t bat an eye. Their acceptance truly allows me to be myself. In the general world, I think things are slowly moving away from awareness to acceptance. People are starting to realize that people with autism truly have a lot to contribute to society.
Nera Birch is a self-advocate with a passion for bringing awareness and advocacy to the Cleveland area. She comes to Milestones as a former volunteer and speaker, with a long history of public speaking alongside the Milestones coaching team about topics important to the autism community.
This article was written by a guest writer for Milestones Autism Resources. Views and opinions expressed in this article are the writer's own. Milestones strives to create conversation around important topics in the autism community and to provide members of the community with a platform to share their honest perspective. In addition, while Milestones Autism Resources' policy is to practice person-first language, we encourage all self-advocates to identify themselves as they wish, so you may see language throughout the blog that does not align with Milestones' internal person-first policy.