TAMPA, Fla. — For Autism Acceptance Month, advocates are asking for better understanding, more inclusive communities and opportunities, as well as better access to high-quality education, employment, and resources.
“My son would be considered profoundly autistic,” said Leslie Ciper.
Her son is non-verbal and has some of the more severe autism symptoms.
“I think one of the things I’d want people to know is that even though he doesn’t really respond in a way that you would expect, he’s not deaf. He can hear everything you’re saying,” said Ciper.
“So many of these families feel isolated. They question whether other people will accept them, but also whether people will interact with them,” said Dr. David Berger, Board Certified Pediatrician at Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care.
That’s why advocates say this recent shift in calling April Autism Acceptance Month instead of Autism Awareness Month is a big deal.
“We want people to not just say oh there’s a kid over there with autism, oh but let me interact," said Berger. "Are there any activities we can do that can make them more integrated into our society."
Just being aware and even accepting isn’t enough though. The next step is gaining a deeper understanding of people with autism and their strengths and challenges.
“I went through it with our daughter. You know I would say oh my gosh she’s doing this to irritate us but there was a reason behind it. Once I knew what that was, I had compassion. I could help her, I could accommodate her,” said Vicky Westra, Founder and CEO of Autism Shifts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 44 children has been identified with having autism.
“Autism and neurodiversity is just about variations in the way that the human brain works,” said Westra.
In a proclamation earlier this month, President Biden said he’d like to see early diagnosis improved and is calling people to create more welcoming and inclusive communities.
“Giving them an opportunity to, they can do anything. They have so many capabilities,” said Ciper.
While there has been progress in recent years, autism advocates say they’d like to see more, like:
- greater access to high-quality education
- services for adults
“If we’re able to make their lives easier, more productive, more able to be out in society, interacting with other people, that is just such an important thing,” said Berger.
“Getting that acceptance when you’re maybe a little quirky can be a little difficult. I think kindness goes a long way,” said Ciper.