April is Autism Acceptance month. It is a month where we celebrate those members of our families, communities, workplaces, schools and friendship groups who have autism. It is a month where we respectfully share our experiences with autism and listen to the thoughts and voices of autistic people. It is about welcome, acceptance, appreciation and respect. http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/
Each year I like to share a little of my family’s autism journey during the month of April. My boys are both autistic. J is 10 and T is 8, and both are accessing mainstream education. Autism impacts both boys in very different ways which is no surprise given they are two unique individuals. Every human being has strengths and weaknesses, things they find challenging, things they enjoy, things that cause them stress. Autistic people are just the same. As human beings we all need different things to learn, thrive, feel comfortable and to progress. “Autism is just a natural variation of the human experience” http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/press/
This year has seen some interesting changes for J and as always, he has taught me some very valuable lessons. I was preparing for his IEP (Individualised Education Plan) meeting with his teachers, and because of this I was asking him a number of questions about how things were going for him in the playground and in the classroom.
J: Mum, what is this E-I-E-I-P all about? (J finds acronyms very confusing as we all do!)
M: It’s an IEP meeting. This stands for individualised education plan. I go and meet with the teachers and we talk about how things are going for you, and we think about some goals that we can all help you to work towards with your learning … or sometimes it’s a friendship thing, or a sensory thing.
J: So it’s about me and my school life?
J: Well, I think I should come to the meeting then … because no offense mum (a much used phrase of his, bless him) … but I’m actually an expert on Autism … and I don’t think any of you have Autism superpowers … do you? … so you will probably need me to help. It’s my plan isn’t it, Mum?
Oh my goodness! I felt such waves of emotion. I felt so proud of J that he’d reminded me that his voice needed to be heard but I felt rather ashamed that I hadn’t thought of that myself. How many times have I organised therapy, conducted medical appointments or set goals for the boys without ensuring that their wishes and feelings were heard and that they were fully included (where they could be) in the process?
So here I am now 8 years down the Autism road and I’m still learning about acceptance in action. Actively accepting is more than just loving my boys as they are without exception and without condition. It’s also about acceptance in action. It’s about ensuring the boys’ voices are heard and empowering them ultimately to advocate for themselves. It’s about never forgetting that they are central to the picture and whilst they certainly have challenges like everyone else, we can never forget how much potential they have if given the right tools to participate and engage in life.
“Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. People with ASD have problems with social and communication skills. Many people with ASD also have unusual ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to sensations. It is part of a group of disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). In most cases its causes are unknown. Today, 1 in 110 individuals is diagnosed with autism.” http://www.autismawareness.com.au/