Meet Me Where I Am | Organization for Autism Research

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Being aware of something means “the quality or state of being aware.” It is not active and takes little to no effort. Acceptance, in contrast, requires action—making an effort to understand and approve of another. As noted by Kassiane S., a blog post writer on the ASAN website, “Acceptance of autistic people, like acceptance of pretty much all people, involves moving past surface impressions.” The most effective way to move past those surface impressions is to talk with people who live the experience every day. People with autism, in other words.

To highlight the importance of acceptance, the theme of this issue of The OARacle, we asked young adults with autism what acceptance means to them. Why is it important? What can others do to make people with autism feel accepted? What are the biggest barriers to autism acceptance?

 

The Most Importance Acceptance is Self-Acceptance

Acceptance means listening and treating somebody without judgment, treating another person without double standards or biases. The most important acceptance however, is personal acceptance. How do you feel about having autism? Is it a strength or weakness? Is it something you’re proud or ashamed of? I believe it is very hard to be accepted by others if you can’t accept yourself.

A positive environment and understanding of neurodiversity is critical to success, illustrated by many studies. If we, the neurodiverse community, are accepted without judgment, we can be better understood by the neurotypical community. Being honest about your own limitations is also a big part of acceptance. We, like everyone else, are not perfect, and have things we struggle with, which will differ from person to person. Self-acceptance means not seeing yourself solely as someone who is burdened, but also not seeing yourself as someone who is mistake-free.

Negative stereotypes create a difficult and judgmental environment in schools and workplaces and can prevent disclosure and self-advocacy of the person with autism from occurring.

A lack of personal acceptance is something I have also seen as a barrier to many with autism. Many times I have seen people afraid to disclose their autism to others, with a few expressing their shame and worry of discrimination. From personal experience, I have learned the value of wearing autism proudly on my sleeve rather than something to be ashamed of. Because of my willingness not only to disclose my autism, but teach others about it, many companies and organizations have been extremely interested in talking to me.

Some things people can do to include people with autism include involving us in clubs and activities, talking to us nonjudgmentally, and treating us with respect as they would any other person!


Ben VanHook is a 20-year-old college student who has just completed his junior year at Mercyhurst University. He has been very active and involved in autism advocacy through talking and communicating with companies such as MITRE and Amazon and interning at StemSkills and, most recently, Crossroads Campaigns.


 
Acceptance of the Contributions We Can Make

I think that acceptance for people with autism is necessary in the workplace. People with autism can be incredibly intelligent and have many strengths to offer employers. Networking is important for people to find opportunities to work in competitive fields and use their intelligence effectively. In order for people with autism to network and make connections, they need to be accepted. One barrier to this is the lack of understanding of the way that people with autism socialize and communicate differently. This may prevent them from networking altogether or their different social skills may cause other people to underestimate their intelligence and abilities, and not give them an opportunity for employment or promotion because of an unawareness about their differences.

It is important for me to be accepted so that I can get a job in the exciting career of cybersecurity, which I will also use to start my own business in the future.


Jason Dine is an OAR scholarship recipient and a cybersecurity major at Columbus State University, Columbus, Ga.


 
Acceptance Is Being Included

Why is acceptance important?

  • Acceptance makes it easier for us to access our accommodations. It reduces our anxiety. —Justin
  • People will be kinder. —Danny

What does acceptance mean to you?

  • It makes me feel good and included. A good friend says you don’t need to change yourself. —Sarah
  • Acceptance affects our mental health. We need to accept everyone, including those of us who are LGBTQ, everything about us. Acceptance makes it easier for us to access our accommodations. It reduces our anxiety. ­—Justin

What are the biggest barriers to autism acceptance?

  • People tell me to calm down. Some people with disabilities face discrimination if they fall in love and want to have a relationship. —Audrey
  • People think I’m just being lazy; they don’t believe I have a disability because I don’t look different. This happens a lot. —Sarah

What can others do to make people with autism feel accepted?

  • They can help me reach my dreams. —William
  • They should be kind and patient. —Sarah
  • Ask me how I feel. —Audrey
  • Friends are not rude to anyone and they speak in a kind tone of voice. My best buddy shows me she accepts me because she is happy and excited to be with me. —Anna and Emma

Members of The Order of Self Determination offered these ideas about acceptance. The Order is a club for high school students with autism at the Arlington, Va., Career Center in the Program for Employment Preparedness. OAR contributor and presenter, Deborah Hammer, an autism specialist for Arlington Public Schools, is the club’s advisor.


 
Acceptance Means Respect, Dignity, and Understanding

Why is acceptance important?

  • Acceptance is important because autistics are human too. They should accept us regardless of whether we are autistic or not. We need to be treated like everyone else. —Shyngus
  • Equity is not being equal. It is giving everyone what they need. —Anonymous

What does acceptance mean to you?

  • Weird can be good—it is the new normal. Having different point of view but still having respect and understanding. —Collin
  • Acceptance is knowing that I’m different and loving me for who I am. Acceptance is understanding that I’m a good person even though I might see some things differently. —Greg

What can others do to make people with autism feel accepted?

  • Learn about the positive things about autism. Learn how to help us with the challenges that we may have instead of thinking about us in negative way. Help us with our social skills and communication and other things we have trouble with. I took a social skills class in school and other kids with autism should get to take those to help with social interaction with peers. —Alex
  • Don’t think autism is contagious—that is insulting. Don’t use the “R” word. Treat me with respect, dignity, and understanding. Don’t leave me out; include me. —Collin
  • Offer basic accommodations in public places, like noise-canceling headphones. — Anonymous
  • Welcome me in. Say hello when you see me. Invite me to eat lunch with you. These things make me feel welcome and more comfortable. —Will

What are the biggest barriers to acceptance?

  • Trying to get a job. People haven’t been willing to give me a chance. I just hope I will finally get a chance. —Lukas
  • People make it hard for me by having requirements I can’t meet. Other people don’t see my ability. It is hard to find a girlfriend because I’m autistic and that is why they don’t want to date me. It is discrimination. —Shyngus
  • The use of preconceived notions and stereotypes rather than what we have to say. We are the most knowledgeable about this disability because we are the ones experiencing it. —Anonymous

Members of the Cool Aspies Club, a social club for young adults with autism in Alexandria, Va., provided these responses. Hammer founded and facilitates the Cool Aspies Club.


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