Maritza (Mitzy) Pardo M.A., BCBA
Autism Awareness and Inclusivity
Welcome to Spring! While we celebrate the warmer climate and promise of new growth in April, it is also the time of year we stand together to observe Autism Awareness Month. Our collective goal has been to increase community awareness that the diagnosis for autism is ever on the rise and also to celebrate the progress made in our community for inclusivity. As we know, ASD (autism spectrum disorder) is a developmental disability affecting 1 in 44 of eight-years-old children as of 2018. While ASD impacts the nervous system to various degrees, the most common conditions include impairments in the area of communication and social interactions. In the past not much was known regarding the strengths and skills of those on the Spectrum. The focus was placed on the impairments which lead to isolation. Thankfully, as research has grown, the shift in focus from impairments to strengths has too, resulting in greater strides towards inclusivity.
Parents frequently ask or wonder about the opportunities available to their children once diagnosed with Autism. The good news is that each year, many more opportunities arise for those on the Spectrum. Below are just a few areas in which opportunities have multiplied for those on the spectrum.
1) Education - Many families are aware of the process for requesting early interventions supports through their local regional center and after the age of three, public school evaluations (e.g., Individual Education Plan). However, once they are ready to graduate, what comes next? For those who would like to continue their education, there is now the opportunity to go to specialty vocational schools such as Easterseals, UCLA College to Career programs, and Exceptional Minds. The goal is to enhance the students’ interests and strengths in an area which has the highest likelihood of job placement. Exceptional Minds is just one of many who have partnered with companies in the Entertainment Industry such as Sony and Disney, to further inclusivity.
2) Career - As of 2021, there has been an increase in companies who incorporate neurodiverse hiring practices. For a list of the top seven companies visit Top 7 companies hiring and nurturing neurodiverse talent | Business Chief North America.
3) Community Service - Serving the community is every bit as important to typically developing individuals as it is to those who may have a disability. Volunteer work not only teaches what it means to help others, but it may also be a great opportunity for social interactions and building friendships. We at Shades of Motherhood, often partner with other organizations like The Union Rescue Mission, Tree People, and Heal the Bay to provide such opportunities.
4) Social Networking - Regardless of age or ability, the need to connect with others is universal. However, the way these connections are facilitated vary with each individual’s level of comfort. During the early years, children with disabilities go through formal social skills training groups (e.g., Holding Hands, Easterseals, and UCLA PEERS). In addition, inclusive day camps are also great opportunities (www.newgrowthla.org) for socialization. However, as they get older the questions of adult friendships and dating may become a concern. UCLA PEERS Boot Camps also include support for dating PEERS® Dating Boot Camps | Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior (ucla.edu)
As we stand now, many more accomplished adults and even celebrities (Dan Aykroyd, Daryl Hannah, Tim Burton, and Anthony Hopkins to name just a few!) have taken to social media to share their diagnosis and personal journeys in the hope of offering encouragement and awareness. However, they all advocate the need for greater awareness and continued progress towards inclusivity. The more conversations families and educators have focused on the strengths and capabilities of those with ASD, the less chance there is to isolate and limit those who demonstrate differences. Many of those previously mentioned have accomplished amazing things and enriched the lives of so many because at some point in their lives, they were recognized for the abilities rather than inabilities. The message we send now is one of encouragement and celebration for those on the Autism Spectrum. May we continue to move forward with acceptance and inclusivity.