OK, says the person who is learning about autism awareness-understanding-acceptance-respect: I am aware of autism and have gained some understanding of what it is. What can I do to demonstrate acceptance?
A key component of successfully changing behavior is when people are not only told what they need to know but also what they need to do.
To that end, I offer a wholly non-comprehensive list of things people can do.
Others may have ideas on this they wish to share (and I hope they do!), but I think acts of acceptance take two basic forms:
- What you can do
- What you can encourage others to do
Many of the acts of autism acceptance that came to mind parallel basic polite behavior.
do unto others
mind your own business
if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all.
If people would stick to those, it would take us a long way.
In addition to basic politeness, however, below are some specific things people can do to demonstrate autism acceptance, things they can do even if they don’t know that someone is on the autism spectrum:
1. Acceptance During Meltdowns
Meltdowns are different than temper tantrums because they are generally triggered by something and reflect an emotional overload response rather than being a 4-year-old’s power and control tactic.
There is no amount of “discipline” that can halt a meltdown, and disciplinary actions can actually aggravate the situation.
- What you can do – If you see anyone – child, adult – having what appears to be a temper tantrum, start by making no assumptions about what is going on. You can also kindly ask the parent or caregiver if there is anything you can do to help, and smile if your assistance is not needed.
- What you can encourage others to do -If you see someone reacting badly to a child’s or adult’s meltdown, you can quietly tell them it might be autism and that both the child or adult and accompanying parent or caregiver could probably use quiet compassion and kindness.
2. Acceptance in Restrooms
Even as he became an older child, the Navigator was not always able to go to a restroom on his own. Depending on the circumstances, if a family restroom was not available I would frequently bring him into the women’s restroom with me.
I am not alone in making this kind of decision for my child’s safety.
- What you can do – If you see a child or adult of the opposite gender in the bathroom with an accompanying adult and they are clearly not menacing, just go about your business or wait outside until they come out.
- What you can encourage others to do – If you see someone reacting badly to a child or adult of the opposite gender in the bathroom with an accompanying adult, you can quietly tell them it might be Autism and that you would be happy to wait with them or they can wait outside if they are uncomfortable.
3. RSVP for the Party
One of the most frustrating and ire-provoking things I see on the internet are stories about children with autism having birthday parties and none of the invitees’ parents letting the birthday child’s parent know whether their child is coming or not.
- What you can do – This one is very simple – RSVP. An RSVP is not some kind of snobby, Emily Post-fancy-manners, which-fork-do-I-use thing. It is just simple politeness. Call, email, let them know if you can go or not.
- What you can encourage others to do – If you know other children have been invited to a party, you can conversationally ask their parents if their are going to go, not to forget to RSVP, do they want to car-pool, etc.
4. Acceptance of Stimming
I like this definition from Autism Wiki: Stimming is a natural behavior that can improve emotional regulation and prevent meltdowns in stressful situations. Common examples of stimming include:
|Visual||Flapping hands, blinking and/or moving fingers in front of eyes; staring repetitively at a light|
|Auditory||Making vocal sounds; snapping fingers|
|Tactile||Scratching; rubbing the skin with one’s hands or with an external object|
|Vestibular||Moving body in rhythmic motion; rocking front and back or side-to-side|
|Taste||Licking body parts; licking an object|
|Smell||Smelling objects or hands; other people|
The Navigator stims with he is excited or nervous by running his hands on smooth things (like railings) and moving like a dinosaur.
It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong or that he is not paying attention to his surroundings, he is simply processing emotions.
Discouraging the stim could make it harder for him, so we patiently wait him out and don’t make a big deal about it.
- What you can do – If you see a child or adult engaging in repetitive behavior that could be stimming, realize that they are probably feeling a strong emotion and give them time and space to complete the processing. Don’t discourage the stim or act as if it is out of the ordinary.
- What you can encourage others to do – If you see someone reacting badly to a child or adult stimming, you can quietly tell them it might be autism, that it is normal, and that it is most helpful not to discourage the stim or draw attention to it.
5. Stopping Bullying
Studies have shown that children on the autism spectrum are more likely to be bullied. Simply put, bullies thrive in environments where their behavior – both overt and covert – is ignored, indirectly encouraged, and not stopped.
- What you can do – Stand up, speak out, take photos, videos, let the bully know that the victim is not alone. Start with not tolerating even acts of meanness and unkindness, and speak up about how wrong bullying is. Point out to your children examples of bullying on tv, movies, and social media explaining why they are wrong, and teach your children to stand up and speak out when they see bullying.
- What you can encourage others to do – Standing up and speaking out sets an example for others.
6. Acceptance of Down Time
My son works so hard at managing school each day and he needs his down time to recharge his batteries for the next day.
This is a major reason why he is not signed up for extra-curricular activities. It is not that he is not interested in the social outlets, it is that he needs the time without social and other stimuli.
- What you can do – Respect a child’s or adult’s need for downtime, and don’t assume that they are not interested in social events because they don’t participate on a day-to-day basis.
Be aware that activities like sports, Scouting, and other extra-curricular activities can unintentionally lead to cliques and clique-ish behavior which can hurtfully exclude someone on the spectrum
Make an effort to include the child or adult in social activities, like parties, sporting championships, recitals, etc., even if they are not participating on a day-to-day basis.
- What you can encourage others to do – Discourage clique-ish behavior and encourage inviting the child or adult to social activities, like parties, sporting championships, recitals, etc., even if they are not participating on a day-to-day basis.
7. Accept the Need for Advanced Notice
The more advanced notice the Navigator has about things, especially new thing or things that make him nervous, the better.
It gives him time to process his feelings, ask questions, and become comfortable with the idea.
- What you can do – Remember the old days when someone would be invited to an event weeks in advance? Don’t wait until the last minute to invite a child or adult on the spectrum to an event, or to let them know of an upcoming event. Give as much advanced notice as possible to allow attendees to get as comfortable as possible. The same goes for transitions to new things.
- What you can encourage others to do – If you are in a position to influence event planning, remind those issuing invitations that some people need time, and that invitations and announcements should not be delayed.
8. The “8 Second Rule”
Watch this amazing video from Autistic Genius:
- What you can do – Give people time to answer your questions and ask one question at a time.
- What you can encourage others to do – Encourage them to give people time to answer. Discourage interruptions and multiple questions.
9. Accept Limited Eye Contact
Eye contact can be intense for people on the autism spectrum and many may avoid it.
It doesn’t mean they are not listening, honest, or interested.
- What you can do – If a child or adult doesn’t make eye contact with you, don’t assume they are not listening, they are not honest, or that they are not interested. Keep communicating as you otherwise would and don’t try to force eye contact.
- What you can encourage others to do – If someone complains about a child or adult not making eye contact, you can quietly tell them it might be autism and that it is not a sign of dishonesty or impoliteness and that the child or adult were likely listening and interested in what was being said.
10. Acceptance Through Focus on Strengths and Positives
It is easy to be distracted by what is different – my son being “too old” to go into the women’s restroom with me or his walking around like a dinosaur in a public place might be distracting to some.
Being distracted by the different means someone won’t get a chance to learn of his encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs, enjoy his great sense of humor, or see his sweet smile.
- What you can do – Focus on the smile, or the laugh, the child’s or adult’s interest displayed on their t-shirt. Look for and compliment the positives.
- What you can encourage others to do – If you see others distracted by the different you can suggest strengths and positives for them to see, too.
What acts of autism acceptance can you think of?
Also published on Medium.