Practice Autism Acceptance

April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month! It is the month the world acknowledges and celebrates our children and families affected by autism (at the Autism Treatment Center of America, we celebrate and acknowledge autism every day.) However, awareness and acceptance alone don’t make much of a difference without action. Taking meaningful action to support our loved ones on the spectrum will always be way more powerful than simply being aware and accepting. Whether you have newly received a diagnosis for your child or have been living with autism for many years, here are four impactful ways to practice taking autism action throughout April and beyond.

Week 1: Join your child in their world.

Children and adults on the autism spectrum all have repetitious, self-soothing activities that they do to take care of themselves. They also have times when they are disengaged and seem more in their own world. We refer to these behaviors as Red Lights in The Son-Rise Program®. You may know or refer to them as “stimming.” Certain behaviors you might see from your child are jumping up and down, flapping their hands, pacing back and forth, holding objects, talking about something repetitiously, with no space for you to respond, or even playing with toys by themselves (e.g., driving toy trains around a train track.) We call these Red Lights because, much like a traffic light system, it means STOP when the light turns red. Refrain from teaching your child, requesting from your child, or trying to engage your child during these moments. Your child is in a Red Light because they are overloaded at that moment and are taking time to self-soothe and self-regulate. Therefore, during those moments, we want to embrace and trust them and let go of attempting to teach them or change them. Doing this will be revolutionary for your child and your relationship with your child. This is autism acceptance in action.

Week 2: Celebrate your child!

The Son-Rise Program technique of celebrating your child is something that benefits everyone. For your child, celebrating them often and with sincerity really focuses on all the amazing things they do each day and builds their self-esteem. As a parent or caregiver for your child, it also feels great to celebrate, and it can put you in a positive, optimistic headspace. Our kids on the spectrum face daily challenges and work super hard to overcome hurdles. They do so with such resilience and grace, and they inspire us every day. Cheer your child on for all the steps they take to connect with you (e.g., playing with you, making sounds, using language, looking into your eyes, and being flexible.) But why not also celebrate the things they already do as well? Another way to encourage and inspire your child is to celebrate their efforts. Celebrating your child helps them become more accustomed to trying new things, and being a good trier leads to mastery of specific skills. This is autism acceptance in action.

Week 3: Give your child control.

We all love control! 😊 But for people on the autism spectrum, having control is essential to their wellbeing. This is because the world is highly unpredictable to those on the spectrum. They are often faced with sensory overload, lack of autonomy over their environment and in their bodies, struggles with communication and expressing their needs, and the societal pressure to conform. Therefore, when they finally get the opportunity to hold on to some control, they may feel the urge to become insistent about what they want. If you have regular control battles with your autistic child, you will know how strong-willed they can be. They are taking care of themselves and doing their best, so let’s look for opportunities to give them control wherever possible. This means we offer more “yeses” (if it’s safe and reasonable to do so). For example, allow them to pace around while eating (instead of sitting at the table), let them play with toys in the way that they like (instead of the way we want them to), and set up your home so it’s as boundary-free as possible. We see those on the spectrum thrive and become more flexible when given more control. This is autism acceptance in action.

Week 4: Cultivate an interest in playing and talking about what your child loves.

So often, people on the autism spectrum get redirected or ignored when they are repetitious or rigid in their conversations or interests. Your child is trying to include you in their world and showing you how to connect with them. Diving into their motivations and preferences with no agenda other than to deepen your bond, will give your child the time and space they crave to be themselves. Doing this will make you a very predictable and helpful source in their world and will help them relax and feel embraced for who they are. This is autism acceptance in action.

When you do all these meaningful actions to accept your loved one on the spectrum throughout April, you might be surprised at how nurturing it feels to you and how your child responds. You might just decide to continue doing them for a lifetime, not just four weeks.

Written by Becky Damgaard – Our Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher

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