I hope you were able to read my post about Early Autism Diagnosis yesterday. As April winds to a close, I still feel a deep sense of urgency in talking about the importance of autism acceptance well beyond the month of April.
This post is all about the work we can do, as moms, to collectively build a brighter future for individuals with all types of brains. If you are a parent of a typically developing child (sometimes called neurotypical), you have an incredibly POWERFUL set of cards in your hands. If you are a parent of a child whose development is on a slightly different trajectory, please read and also take this information to heart as you too have a powerful set of cards in your hand.
Over the last 10 years, in my role as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I have had the extreme honor of working with families and autistic children/teens with a variety of skill sets and strengths. My consistent experience has been this- each and every individual has a unique and incredible set of skills that benefits the world around them. My role often is empowering the child to interact in their world with greater independence and in ways meaningful for them (supporting the development of socialization, communication, and play), AND advocating for others to pay attention to those skills and strengths and celebrate them.
While I find this work getting easier year by year as more people move from autism awareness to autism acceptance, understanding the importance of strengths-based supports (building off of and honoring a child’s strengths and abilities) is still so important. Discouragingly, I still see that brain function differences are sometimes thought of as making a person ‘less than.’ We have a lot of work to do to become better allies and advocates for autistic individuals and their families. Let’s get to work.
Understanding and embracing neurodiversity and the neurodiversity paradigm are two great places to start.
Dr. Nick Walker, an autistic scholar, author, and educator, speaks quite a bit on these topics. I encourage you to learn from Dr. Walker to more fully understand the full breadth of information on your journey.
I’ll summarize by saying that neurodiversity is, at its most basic level, the FACT that different brains have different ranges of neurocognitive functioning. Which is to say, our brains process information differently. This calls us to point out that how we define neurotypical is a SOCIAL construct.
Basically that what we think of as ‘normal’ exists because we humans have crafted it that way. (The one-liner ‘what is normal, anyways?’ really holds true here). No particular way of brain functioning is better than another, because different brains have different strengths that move our world forward.
We NEED all kinds of brains- this is how we can advance together towards a stronger and more unified future. Start by talking with your kids about different kinds of brains. How brains think differently, communicate differently, and walk/talk differently.
Here are some introduction questions about autism acceptance that you can reflect on by yourself or even with your kids:
- Are we celebrating the importance of having all kinds of brains?
- Are we talking to our kids about how some brains communicate with verbal speech, and some brains use a speech-generating device to communicate?
- Are we celebrating that some brains like to play by lining up objects, and some brains like to engage in pretend play?
- Are we celebrating that some brains have a variety of interests, and some brains have a few interests they like to focus on?
Our future world is one that will have many problems to solve. Teaching our kids that different brains can solve different problems can serve to break down the stigmas we have surrounding neurodevelopmental diagnoses, such as autism.
Just as we, as a society, have been working hard to learn and unlearn what we know about racism, we have work to do surrounding ableism, as well. Work that makes us rethink the general assumption that neurotypical ways and strategies are best. The cards you have in your hand to play, are teaching your children the power of different brains and just how important neurodiversity really is.
Autism Level Up, a collaboration between two amazing researchers (Dr. Amy Laurent, psychologist, researcher, and education consultant, and Dr. JÂcqûelyn Fede, an autistic researcher, and program evaluator) highlights the importance of leveling up from awareness all the way to advocacy. This is a huge component of why we want to celebrate autism acceptance and not just autism awareness. Check out their resources, see where you are at in the process, and think about how you could take the next step to Level UP! Then, take that journey with your kids as well.