From the Desk of Ms. Brieann: Autism Month: Awareness vs. Acceptance

By AASLMarch 31, 2017

As many of you have come to know, April has been designated as Autism Awareness Month, with many community-wide events, fundraisers, and walks to promote awareness of Autism.

This year All About Speech & Language is blessed to be able to participate in a variety of events to support local causes in our own Tampa Bay Community that directly impact and serve these amazing children and their families.

On March 25th, 2017 we participated in the local Cycling for Autism Event, hosted by the Interbay Rotary at Whiskey Joe’s.  Click here for photo album.

All About Speech & Language Team at Cycling for Autism, photo credit CARD-USF.

On April 1st, 2017 we participated in the Rally for Our Children.  Click here for photo album.

All About Speech & Language Team at Rally for Our Children with Former NFL Player Frank Murphy.

On April 21, 2017 we will be supporting our friends at CARD-USF (The Center for Autism & Related Disabilities at the University of South Florida) for their annual Fiesta By the Bay For Autism.

And Worldwide Autism Awareness Day is going to officially be recognized this year on April 2, 2017; in which people are encouraged to wear blue to promote general awareness of Autism.

As speech and occupational therapists at All About Speech & Language, our lives are dedicated to helping children and their families; and yes, many of them have what has been deemed a “special need” however, we don’t see it as such.  We work with these children day in and day out and hold them to the same expectations we would other children, push their limits to reach their fullest potential, and love and care for them as we do our own family members. And with that, they rise to the goals we have set, defy labels and diagnoses, and positively change and impact the lives of everyone they encounter.  Yes it is not easy, some days are surely harder than others, and the journey is long.  Yes there are tears, fears, disappointments, realities to face, conversations to be had, choices to be made…things we are all faced with no matter who we are and what we encounter in life.

Personally speaking, as therapists, it seems there is a “month” for everything these days to recognize and bring awareness to a variety of needs, disorders, and disabilities and we do support these wonderful causes.  However, while awareness has its place in all of this, I feel as therapists we have a responsibility to make a stand, make an impact, and facilitate one fundamental pillar of life and that is acceptance.   And we are not talking about acceptance within the populations of communities we work with day in and day out; quite frankly there is a whole lot of acceptance between the children, parents, and families; and they support one another and can relate to one another in ways many people cannot even begin to fathom.  We are talking about acceptance from society.

I was once in a grocery store conducting functional skills therapy with a client of mine and working on navigating the store, finding relevant items this child used for personal care as well as for eating, and communicating with store employees to find where certain items were. Secondary to this client’s disability, he also had difficulty with pronouncing speech sounds that made it hard to understand him at times.    In that same grocery store, on another occasion, I brought another client on a functional outing to begin to navigate grocery shopping not only for herself, but also for her family, as they dreaded taking their child to the store out of “fear” of how they would be perceived by others and not knowing how their child would handle this daily life experience, with its predictable and unpredictable moments, and everything in between.

On both of these occasions at this grocery store, while our experiences were different, the response by members of society had many similarities and they went something like this.  When my client wasn’t understood, despite multiple attempts to repeat his question and subsequently use his iPad, the worker said “oh it’s okay” and proceeded to look to me for the answer.  However, with my support, he succeeded in getting his question answered.  And when my client started screaming and crying upon entering the store because she didn’t want to push a cart and everyone in the checkout lanes was watching, looking, staring and saying “it’s ok”; we worked through it, verbally communicated expectations, and soon thereafter she was pushing the cart around the store.

The impact of an “it’s ok” response/attitude from society is disheartening to say the very least and evokes a variety of emotions.  Really?  “It’s ok…” what does this even mean?  Are you uncomfortable, scared, don’t know what to do, how to handle a situation?  These are human beings who have thoughts, feelings, and emotions just as you do, they just go about understanding and expressing those differently, and that doesn’t mean we change how we interact with them.   The impact is profound; not only on the child and family but with the ripple effect it creates amongst society.

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