April is Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month. Connecting people with Autism to the community is an important part of having a meaningful life. Being human, I need to belong to a community. Community for me is a combination of physical location, people who are close to me, and people who share some common beliefs. Having Autism, anxiety and depression means that I often struggle to connect to any community. Sometimes just getting out my door is the hardest part of my day. I bet you can relate since everyone has those days. I live in a nice midsize community with lots of amenities like sidewalks, a rec center and a public library. The people who share the public space and live in the surrounding areas are comprised of mostly middle class folks who are generally friendly.
My biggest limit living in my community is self imposed due to my social anxiety. I have a modest number of places that I feel comfortable going by myself, however, if I’m with people I trust, I’m willing to go more places. Knowing what to expect ahead of time helps, as does having an exit plan. This prior planning makes it possible for me to try going to new places. My favorite local place to go is the public library since I know many of the people who work there. I feel comfortable enough at the library and a few local businesses that interacting with other people (who may be less familiar) takes less effort so I’m willing to take more risks.
I’m also part of another community that isn’t based on location but on similar struggles. I’m part of the Autism community which is a large, very varied group of people. I used to belong to an ASD support group that would meet to socialize and support each other. My experience with the group was that everyone was trying their best with their own personal struggles. Belonging to a group that feels less judgmental and more understanding of personal quirks was a vital part of this group. Being less critical of others and understanding that there is more than the “right answers” took a lot of effort on my part. Being part of any ASD group requires me to acknowledge the parts of myself that don’t like and try to fix or hide. I try so hard to fit in and be “normal” and be “invisible” so that I can blend into my local community. This effort leave me less energy to be accepting of anyone different, including myself. I’m not sure I can undo a lifetime of learning to hide my differences without a lot of hard work and determination.
For me Autism Acceptance is about embracing all of myself, not just the easy part. It’s acknowledging my form of Autism is only one of many and that there is no “right” way to have Autism. What can I do during April Autism Awareness/Acceptance month? I can go online to look up Autism Awareness/Acceptance events and information. I can attend events in the community that promote acceptance and inclusion. I can blog about my experiences as a young woman with ASD and read other individuals’ Autism blogs. There is lot that can be done every day to encourage Autism Acceptance. I believe that learning and working on acceptance for all people makes the world a better place.