After a long chilly winter in the northern United States, springtime finally made its appearance, as the weather turned much warmer this week. Flowers are opening, birds are chirping, and a pleasant breeze is blowing in through the open windows. This past winter’s snow and howling winds have faded into memory.
I found myself thinking of a conversation I had with a mother about seven years ago, when sensational autism-awareness stories were all over the media. At that time, advocacy efforts toward acceptance were just starting to get organized. She told me that she was planning to homeschool her young son because he had become overwhelmed with anxiety at school. It wasn’t autism in itself that caused his anxiety, she said—rather, it was a lack of understanding and accommodation at school, along with a general attitude that he was a problem to be managed.
This mother had been working to improve the situation in every way she could, but she felt overwhelmed herself. She couldn’t imagine things changing for the better. There was so much fear and ignorance, she said. However much she did, it never seemed to be enough to make a difference.
I replied that I thought of it like planting seeds. At first there’s very little to be seen—just the cold bare earth, with an occasional tiny seedling here and there. It’s hard to imagine that anything much will ever start to grow. But as the days get longer and the air turns warmer, sprouts pop up all over the place. Leaves unfold, stems lengthen, bees buzz, and heavy blossoms fill the air with fragrance. Before you know it, there’s a beautiful garden just outside your window.
Although the past several years of working toward autism acceptance haven’t always been easy, I believe that the concept has taken firm root and begun to flower. We’ve made it through the cold bleak seed-planting days. Acceptance has become a mainstream idea now. In addition to websites devoted to it such as The Autism Acceptance Project, Paula C. Durbin-Westby’s Autism Acceptance blog, and ASAN’s Autism Acceptance Month site, it is becoming a topic of everyday discussion.
Of course, we still have more to do. Acceptance isn’t just about ideas and conversations in the abstract. Acceptance is an action; and it requires plenty of work, just like a garden does. We’re still learning, as a society, how best to go about it. People are hard at work designing new inclusive education programs, developing AAC devices, improving healthcare access, providing workplace accommodations, and teaching self-advocacy skills. Although ignorance still exists and needs to be dealt with, I think it’s fair to say that there has been a change in the air, such that springtime for autism acceptance has arrived. Society has a better understanding of our community’s concerns and the importance of addressing them.