Moving Beyond Awareness to Acceptance
April is Autism Acceptance Month as we move beyond awareness to embrace the beauty that comes through diversity.
By: Emily Shaw
Autism Acceptance Month kicked off this year with World Autism Day, celebrated April 2, to help spread awareness and teach acceptance about autism. In true KidsAbility fashion, staff wore every colour under the rainbow to celebrate and honour the uniqueness and beauty of autistic people. However, autism acceptance and awareness is not something relegated to a single day, it’s part of a larger conversation that happens throughout the entire month of April and beyond.
KidsAbility meets the family where they’re at, with what the child’s challenges and strengths are, taking a strength-based approach.
“When your child is diagnosed, you don’t know what that means for them as an adult. I think there’s a lot of fear of the unknown. Autism is such a spectrum disorder that it’s hard to make generalizations about autistic people,” Robinson said.
KidsAbility’s autism program and services has provided therapy and support for nearly 20 years across Waterloo Region and Guelph-Wellington. Behaviour therapists, behaviour technicians, and Board Certified Behaviour Analysts (BCBAs) help children develop their adaptive skills and decrease challenging behaviours.
Natalie Robinson, Director of Autism Services, says, “Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects children in the social, communication, and behaviour realms of their development. It’s a spectrum disorder so it affects every person differently. No two autistic people will present the same.”
KidsAbility applies that individualized approach to creating a plan unique to each child by first meeting with the family to assess their child and create an individualized program depending on what the family’s goals are for their child. These goals can include helping to develop a child’s communication skills, learning how to eat, eating certain foods, eating independently, going to the bathroom independently, and getting dressed on their own.
Rohan, a Rotarian at KidsAbility, has a child who is on the autism spectrum, who accesses occupational therapy (OT) and speech-language pathology (SLP) services at KidsAbility.
He says, “Occupational therapy and speech-language therapy have given us strategies on how to improve eating habits for certain foods, provided us strategies on how to improve his communication, and how to interpret his needs. We have also met other parents who have kids with autism and that’s helped us to understand that we’re not alone.”
“We look at the child’s unique strengths and abilities as well as their challenges, looking to see how we can help meet whatever the goals are of the family. We’re really family-driven. The family identifies what their goals are and then we work in a partnership to help achieve those goals,” Robinson said.
When families find out their child is diagnosed with autism, it can be a journey to acceptance. Some fears may arise and there are many misconceptions about what autism is and what the future may bring.
Rohan says, “They’re normal kids just like us, they just think and understand things differently. If they don’t fall within a certain box, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with them.”
The truth about autism is that everyone with autism is different, just like anyone without autism is different.
“There’s a lot of beautiful, unique strengths and abilities in every child. There’s untapped potential in every child and with the right support, we can really help with building their skills and the reduction of challenges with evidence-based practice,” Robinson said.
When parents, families and caregivers suspect their child may have autism, they should speak with a doctor or professional who can them refer them to KidsAbility’s Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessment Team. The team works with each family to answer questions and participate in a team assessment with therapists and a specialized pediatrician.
“Families should continue to advocate for their child and keep asking questions. They can always self-refer to KidsAbility and we’ll assess and come up with a plan if it’s appropriate. It’s also important for parents to also do their research and take data on whether it’s making a change or not,” Robinson said.
It’s important that families and communities understand that it’s about acceptance of everyone’s differences and abilities and the beauty that comes through diversity.
“It’s about knowing that being different is okay, it’s beautiful, it’s what makes everybody unique. We should be celebrating those differences. It starts with our community. There has been a lot of autism awareness day campaigns, so I hope we’ve moved on from awareness into acceptance,” Robinson said.
“If you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism.”
— Stephen Shore
Emily Shaw is a journalism student at Conestoga College.
As a volunteer with KidsAbility, choosing an organization that she was passionate about to complete her co-op placement made it a natural fit.