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Why We Celebrate Neurodiversity – Not Just Acknowledge It

In this post, I’d like to talk about the relatively well-known movement for “autism awareness,” and give examples of how we (as both a society and within the field of behavior analysis) can take further steps toward autism acceptance as well as celebration of neurodiversity in general.

First, what is neurodiversity? According to our FAQ:

No one’s brain functions in the exact same way as another person’s brain. When some brains function in different ways and influence different needs, they’re considered neurodiverse. Like other facets of diversity, neurodiversity includes a broad, natural spectrum of human experience. Autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities are examples of neurodivergence.

The neurodiversity movement is deeply tied to the cause of disability rights in general, as well as to autistic self-advocacy. The neurodiversity movement believes that autism should be accepted, not merely acknowledged or understood. In the context of behavior analysis, our goal is not to eliminate autism, but rather to celebrate individuality while ensuring that day-to-day life accommodations are provided and advocated for.

I encourage all readers to review the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s position statements for more information! 

celebrate neurodiversity

Autism Acceptance and Advocacy

Autism awareness can have different connotations depending on the context. Autism is often framed in a negative light, particularly when the focus is on the increasing incidence/diagnosis rates or looking for a “cure.” In that sense, being aware of autism can simply make people afraid and reinforce harmful stereotypes.

Instead, autism and neurodiversity should be accepted and celebrated, and this goal can be achieved through increased awareness and education by the neurodiverse community directly. World Autism Awareness Day is on April 2nd of each year, and indeed April is World Autism Month. As an alternative, learn more about Autism Acceptance Month directly from autistic people.

At the same time, from the Autistic Science Person blog post What Autistic Advocacy Really Means, “autistic people are constantly put into a reductive box of ‘advocate’ instead of human being who has value and deserves to exist.” As a content warning, the linked blog post is about the harmful effects of having to constantly advocate for oneself without the support of allies.

It can be mentally and physically exhausting for someone who relies upon social and environmental accommodations to constantly have to fight for them, on top of the fact that self-advocacy is often perceived to be somehow greedy or demanding. As such, just as a white person is often better able to dismantle systemic white supremacy and it is safer for a cisgender person to call out transphobia, neurotypical people should step up to identify and end instances of ableism whenever possible. Keep in mind, though, that neurotypical allies should not presume to know best about what exactly is needed—it’s very important to always center and listen to the neurodiverse community itself.

 

Taking Action

It will take work to eliminate pervasive ableist practices. Celebration of neurodiversity in part means striving for equitable access to resources and opportunities for all. As just one small example of an action that can be taken, suggested in the blog post linked above, “consider 30 minutes a week of activism, or speaking up and platforming autistic voices, if your livelihood is benefited by autistic lives.” Other options include:

  • Making meetings and gatherings more accessible by providing speech-to-text captioning as subtitles and/or providing a note-taker
  • Providing easy access to spaces with minimal erratic stimuli like loud noises or flashing lights, and low unpredictability in general
  • Maintaining codes of conduct that explicitly encourage acceptance of atypical speech, movements, and social interactions
  • Encouraging a culture of consent by always providing choices and accepting “no” as an answer
  • Not requiring arbitrary social norms of, for example, making eye contact while speaking or keeping one’s hands motionless while seated at a desk

While symbolic gestures like the movement to “light it up blue” in April can be ways to indicate allyship, they should be supplemental to the pursuit of real changes. As the Autistic Self Advocacy Network states, the goal of real activism should be to help ensure “access to health care, education, and employment.” Resources for pursuing these actions (and many more) can be found in the toolkits provided here! There are also many talking points provided here, for conversations with governmental representatives or speaking out on social media.

Waypoints’ Mission and Vision

At Waypoints we recently formalized our company’s strategic plan, which in part included our mission and vision statements. It’s important to us that our day-to-day practices reflect our dedication to our company’s mission and vision, and that our values-based goals are measurable and allow for regular assessment of our alignment with that mission and vision.

To that end, we’re committed to prioritizing an equitable, inclusive approach in order to deliver the best outcomes related to independence and self-advocacy for clients and their families. We believe that neurodivergent people do not need to be “healed” or “fixed,” and that people are more important than profits. Some of our specific goals are:

  • Acting honestly and responsibly to promote ethical practices of our employees
  • Striving to increase the diversity of applicants, hires, and clientele served, as well as meet the needs of diverse employees and clients
  • Maintaining high-quality service delivery and social validity of intervention goals, procedures, and client outcomes

In the same way that we celebrate the rich tapestry of human life when it comes to race, culture, gender, sexuality, and so many other spectrums of experience and expression, we celebrate neurodiversity as well. If you’d like to talk more about how you can take action to be an ally in advocacy, or what we’re doing to reach our goals, please reach out to us at info@waypoints.life!

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