April is not just organ donation month, it is also Autism Awareness Month and as a parent of someone who is autistic and myself being on the spectrum, I share this with you to bring awareness and hopefully promote understanding and acceptance of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The official description of autism is that it is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. It is estimated that 1 in 54 children in the United States has ASD, making it one of the most common developmental disabilities.
But at the end of the day, it’s a different ability to interact and engage with the world. The interesting aspect for our family is that my son was not given the autism diagnosis until he was 15 due to his underlying medical condition related to the urea cycle disorder. Some of the symptoms were really similar and it was hard to see the difference. In hindsight looking back I can tell you times that it was so blatantly obvious it’s almost frustrating to acknowledge.
The theme of this year’s Autism Awareness Month is “Inclusion in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic World.” This theme highlights the need for workplaces to be more inclusive and supportive of individuals with ASD, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
My son is currently receiving job coaching services as we are exploring different jobs that he could potentially do that support him. For me, self-employment has been the key to being able to manage and maneuver this world, and even that has come with its own challenges. I also facilitate living well workshops and it’s been tough because people have the tendency to say, “I know you will like this way better” when I know for a fact this isn’t going to be the case.
Here’s the thing, individuals with ASD have a wide range of skills and abilities that can contribute to the workplace. However, they often face barriers to employment due to social communication difficulties, sensory sensitivities, and a lack of understanding and accommodations from employers. This can lead to unemployment, underemployment, and financial insecurity.
To create a more inclusive workplace, employers can take several steps. First and foremost, they can educate themselves and their staff on ASD and its impact on individuals. This can include training on communication strategies, sensory accommodations, and understanding behavioral differences.
Employers can also make physical accommodations in the workplace, such as providing noise-canceling headphones or adjusting lighting to reduce sensory overload. Flexible work arrangements, such as working from home or flexible schedules, can also be helpful for individuals with ASD who may struggle with traditional work environments.
It is important to recognize that individuals with ASD have unique strengths and abilities that can benefit the workplace. For example, individuals with ASD may excel in tasks that require attention to detail, pattern recognition, or logical reasoning. Employers can tap into these strengths by providing opportunities for skill development and job training.
In addition to creating a more inclusive workplace, Autism Awareness Month is an opportunity to promote acceptance and understanding of individuals with ASD in all areas of life. This can include supporting autism research, advocating for policies that promote inclusivity, and promoting events that celebrate diversity and inclusion.
Finally, it is important to remember that individuals with ASD are not defined by their diagnosis. They are unique individuals with their own personalities, interests, and strengths. By promoting acceptance and understanding, we can create a world where individuals with ASD can thrive and achieve their full potential.