For quite some time, people have been “lighting it up blue” when April rolls around each year. But for the professionals and families supporting people with autism and related disorders, we understand a need to migrate away from awareness and closer to acceptance.
There have been recent major gains in that direction. The Netflix show “Atypical” stars a main character with autism, as does ABC’s “The Good Doctor.” Sesame Street created Julia, a child with autism featured on the show and in books.
Real people with autism are also gaining prominence. A South Florida car wash—Rising Tide—employs only people with autism. No Label at The Table Food Company is a gluten- and dairy-free bakery founded and staffed by people on the spectrum. Earlier this month, a young man with autism was signed by the Kansas City Royals to play in their minor leagues. And there are many more success stories.
However, community members and businesses still need to move toward greater inclusiveness of people with autism spectrum disorder. For every empowering story on the internet, there are several negative counterparts detailing stories of exclusion and varying levels of bullying.
This left us asking the question: How can speech-language pathologists promote acceptance in their communities?
We decided to explore some traditional and new ways SLPs can help:
- Provide handouts on autism to local businesses willing to participate. Many coffee shops, supermarkets and other stores have bulletin boards to display announcements, ads and more. Posting handouts—like the ones shown below—educates community members who might not have access to this type of information.
- Go live on Facebook or other social media platforms to share information about autism. For instance, you can talk about sensory processing difficulties, which might cause a child to become upset. Help others unfamiliar with autism spectrum disorder understand that not all undesirable behavior means a child is simply behaving badly! Why not start by educating your family and friends?
- See a parent or guardian struggling? Offer help, if possible. Parents frequently comment about how uncomfortable they feel when others stare or judge if their child melts down in public. A friendly face, kind words or a little assistance can change their whole experience. It also provides a great example to those watching! Maybe you can inspire someone to help next time they witness a similar occurrence.
- Recommend movies and shows featuring people with autism to those interested in learning more. Some television suggestions include “Atypical,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Boston Legal” and “The Good Doctor.” Some movies include “Rain Man,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Drive” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
- Share informative articles on social media with all your friends. If you’re not comfortable posting videos or “going live” on social media, you can still share information about autism with friends and family. Most people do not want to read scholarly articles in their free time, so remember to share easy-to-read content that’s from a credible source.
- Increase your use community-based instruction. Taking clients into the community allows for functional practice and generalization of communication skills. These sessions also demonstrate to community members just how much individuals with autism can accomplish with a little support.
We are sure you know more fun and unique ways to encourage acceptance. What strategies work for you? We’d love to hear about them in the comment section below!
Kimberly Tice, MS, CCC-SLP, provides intervention in language, learning, literacy and feeding to people with autism spectrum disorder and is a certified special educator. She co-authors the “Lou Knows What to Do” book series and Sociability Books blog with Venita Litvack. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; and 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. firstname.lastname@example.org
Venita Litvack, MA, CCC-SLP, serves people with autism spectrum disorder in a variety of settings as an SLP and augmentative and alternative communication consultant. She also co-authors the “Lou Knows What to Do” book series and Sociability Books blog with Kimberly Tice. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. email@example.com