Part 3: Spectrum Women April Collaboration – Awareness, Acceptance, and Action!

In the third and final part of our three-part series, we have more unique thoughts from Spectrum Women on awareness, acceptance and action. 

Jen Elcheson – from the point of view of true awareness, self-acceptance, and ways we can all be active.

There was a time, much like there is for most people new to autism, when I was not aware of autism, even though I had been given the professional identification! Of course there was not much information at that time and I was heavily in denial.

I finally learned to accept my neurodivergence in my mid 20’s as more information around autism emerged. It wasn’t until I made myself aware of what autism was and was not, that I could move on to accepting myself and then taking action to help others as a writer and mentor.

When I say what autism wasn’t, it usually came back to ‘awareness’ movements and organizations that depicted a negative and constricted view of autism without the input of autistic people. Nothing pointed anywhere near towards acceptance and the right kind of actions!

A lot of my investigation around autism awareness was negative, discouraging, off-putting, and shrouded in fear mongering and the pathology paradigm focused on making us indistinguishable from peers, plus other forms of silencing that were even worse. The thing is, society is aware that autism exists, but perceptions that resulted from that awareness did not promote acceptance.

The dominant narratives and discourse of many non-autistic parents and professionals took (and still take) precedence, but autistic voices; not usually respected or heard. Unfortunately this is still happening.

I found it ridiculous and illogical that this so called autism ‘awareness’ did not seem very aware at all considering those being spoken over (autistics) had been blatantly erased from the dialogue, although it was supposed to be about us.

Dialogues around autism are important without a doubt. Not on a level that promotes fear, compliance, and eradication, but one that educates to enlighten, which, in turn, expands consciousness during rapid changing times of who we truly are. The message of awareness becoming more focused around acceptance has been spread by actually autistic people for many years and yet our message is still not at the forefront.

When I finally started meeting people online in the autistic community with beliefs that focused on our strengths and improving systems in ways that aligned with the social model of disability and inclusion, my perspective swiftly changed course, thus I was able to better accept myself as I really am.

A big aspect of this self-acceptance venture was realizing I was not defective or broken and in need of fixing, like the awareness campaigns wanted me and others to believe. In return, with my newfound work in progress of self-acceptance, I could then move into the action phase, which was through getting together with other autistics to spread acceptance through said action.

There are many ways we can be active, autistics and allies alike. Whether through writing circles, supporting non-profits and grassroots organizations where funds go to supporting autistic people, advocacy and activism, or as in my case writing articles, interviews and contributing to a book with other autistic writers, there is so much we, on the spectrum, can do to keep spreading our message, our way. And, by listening to, hearing us, and sharing our messages, allies can also do their part.

So, to our friends, allies, and everyone, remember these three A’s! Be Aware that we are here and have every right to be here. Accept us and respect us for who we are and the work we do. Let us lead the dialogue and help us by supporting us in our Actions.

 

Liane Holliday Willey writes about awareness, acceptance, and action within personal relationships.

Many years ago, my husband and I were suffering through a mostly broken marriage. Try as I did, I could not understand my husband’s facial expressions and tone of voice, much less his complete inability to answer my questions directly. There were times I felt as though I was being gaslighted; such was my confusion and frustration.

Truly, life was a nightmare from sun-up to sun-down. And then, one day, during my late 30’s, I was diagnosed Asperger syndrome, the term offered to many with autism until the latest DSM. Fortified with this new ‘me’, I was able to tell my husband I would never be able to understand him if he didn’t learn to accept I had a literal thinking brain that was easily confused by body language, nuances, inferences, jokes and subtext.

In other words, I told him, if he didn’t learn about my autism and come to appreciate me as a person with a differently wired brain, he and I would never build a strategy that would teach us how to communicate accurately with one another. And for my part, I told him, I needed to know that until I understood his neurotypical way of thinking, I wouldn’t be able to understand most everything he ever said with any degree of confidence that I’d heard him correctly. Simply put, we needed a framework to direct our communication skill sets.

Autism gave us that framework. For instance, it let me know I had to ask for clarification and not assume his frown meant he was angry with me, just as it taught him he needed to avoid sarcasm and a loud tone unless he wanted me to run for cover in a corner of my closet. This framework grew over time to incorporate more and more pathways between autism and neurotypical. Now, we sit at 40 years of marriage, mostly able to build the sorts of communications partners of any sort needed, if they are to have healthy and productive relationships.

 

I’d like to thank all the Spectrum Women who took part in this collaboration for April – World Autism Awareness month. 

In sharing their experiences of awareness, acceptance, and action they have all added autistic points of view to the ongoing discussion.

Edited by Lisa Morgan

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