Op-Ed: Autism acceptance is key in helping kids with autism reach their full potential

Tara Matthews, MD | April 15, 2021 | Opinion, Health Care
‘I encourage everyone to educate themselves on autism to further help break the social stigma’
Tara Matthews, MD

April has long been recognized as Autism Awareness Month, but this year, experts and advocates are calling for a shift from using “awareness” to “acceptance” to foster change and inclusivity for the one in 32 children with autism spectrum disorder in New Jersey.

Autism spectrum disorder, or autism, is a neurobiological disorder characterized by impairments in social communication and interaction as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior. Individuals with autism typically have difficulty interacting with others. This can include difficulty with building relationships, using language, regulating their emotions, and understanding others’ points of view.

The shift to Autism Acceptance Month aims to ignite change through improved support and opportunities in education, employment, affordable health care, comprehensive long-term services and more. Furthermore, it challenges non-autistic people to address their own implicit and explicit biases that they may have about autism.

There is no known single cause of autism spectrum disorder but early diagnosis and intervention along with access to appropriate services and support can lead to significantly improved outcomes. Additionally, new research shows that an increased understanding of autism can help improve social interactions among those on the spectrum. Many children on the spectrum struggle to connect and communicate with their peers. Social skills programs and therapies can be effective in helping them navigate personal interactions, but the study found that promoting understanding and acceptance among people who are not on the spectrum can also be key factors in improving social interactions and fostering personal relationships for individuals with autism.

Improving understanding of autism

Improving understanding of autism can help improve social inclusion for autistic people. Traditionally many of the therapies and interventions to support social skills development for individuals with autism focus on them learning new behaviors. In some cases, kids on the spectrum may also try to hide their symptoms to better fit in with their peers by suppressing autistic traits and urges. This can prove to be harmful and, in some cases, can result in delays in proper diagnoses and treatments. Increased autism training and knowledge can lead to more inclusive attitudes toward autistic people and to wider acceptance and better outcomes.

This Autism Acceptance Month I encourage everyone to educate themselves on autism to further help break the social stigma individuals with autism, and particularly kids, experience. I also encourage parents to know and learn the signs of autism and if they are concerned about their child’s development to schedule an evaluation as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and intervention coupled with a greater acceptance and awareness of autism are key in helping kids on the spectrum reach their full potential.