What Autism Acceptance Looks Like in My Life
April is Autism Awareness Month. People will be dusting off the puzzle piece ribbons and holding fundraisers. Awareness is a great thing. But it’s not acceptance. Awareness 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 most people want more in the world than to be accepted, and that also holds true 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 adaption allows me to recharge.
You don’t have to understand why or how we do things. For me, acceptance is letting just 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 ask me if I need deep pressure, which helps me a lot when I’m upset. He 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 not judging people on the way they look. Just because I don’t look or seem autistic doesn’t mean 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.
Getty image by Dirima.