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Autism Acceptance Week 2020: What Does It Mean To Us?

Young woman in headscarf smiling into the distance

Every year in early April, the world celebrates Autism Awareness Week. In 2019, our partners, North East Autism Society, decided to boldly change this global movement based on their take of what people with autism really feel. Autism Acceptance Week focuses on not only raising awareness of autism but also urges us to accept people with autism and what their condition means.

To explore autism acceptance from Moving On Tyne & Wear’s perspective, we approached our Pathways staff and asked them what autism acceptance means to them.

Devon Hewson, Health Pathways Officer in Sunderland

“Awareness is easy, acceptance requires work.

“Autism Acceptance is not just accepting somebody because they have a label or condition, it’s accepting them for who they are and acknowledging that they may need some reasonable adjustments just like others. For instance, an individual with asthma might need an inhaler. Autism should be accepted and accommodated like any other condition. It’s not about the condition, it’s about the individual as a whole.”

Thomas Dawson, Health Pathways Officer in South of Tyne

“Autism is a life-long condition that affects people in a wide variety of different ways. Due to the almost unpredictable way the condition manifests, people don’t always recognise it. Often people who are undiagnosed are described as ‘weird’ and report feeling ‘different’. They can find it difficult to socialise with people and maintain social relationships, resulting in isolation and comorbid mental health condition. A lot of people will inadvertently develop a technique called “Masking” to attempt to fit in with neurotypical people which is very mentally taxing and can cause ‘burnout’. By being more accepting of people with Autism we are helping to make the world a more including place.”

Cailin Grant, Health Pathways Officer in Newcastle

“With only recently moving over to the Health Pathways Team, in only a couple of months it has been evident that there are many barriers to those with autism, but also so many advantages.

“Autism acceptance to me means that the world doesn’t view autism as people who have social and communication barriers, but forgets what is deemed ‘normal’ and appreciates that everyone has different ways of thinking and contributing to the world. What I have found with working as a Health Pathways Officer is that where there may be a barrier, that barrier can be turned into a benefit in the working environment.

“For example, if someone has a particular tendency to focus on fine details (OCD), it can be used in a workplace that requires attention to detail, noticing discrepancies and achieving high standards. However, autism has a stigma around it and some people don’t know how to include and communicate with people with the condition. Autism acceptance also means accepting a spectrum of differences and making reasonable adjustments in a workplace/community to include everyone.

“Therefore, an employer should learn to accept that if a person with autism is qualified for the job, but may have some social barriers, then they can work with the individual to see what support they need within the workplace to make them feel comfortable and still manage to communicate effectively between colleagues.

“Autism acceptance is providing equal opportunities and allowing those with autism to use their skills, be a valuable contribution to their community and have a sense of purpose.”

Michael Knaggs, Job Coach in North Tyneside

“Autism acceptance for me is a very personal thing and it is that passion for acceptance that drives and motivates me.

“Autism acceptance is particularly in my role as a Job Coach ensuring that all my participants have fair and equal access to the workplace by reducing stigmas, preconceptions around what autism is and instead focus on the individual and the hidden bank of talents that they have, by encouraging employers to tap into this underused resource by themselves being diverse in their own approach and seeing the true potential that so many of our participants have in abundance.”

Nicola Barraclough, Moving On Tyne & Wear Programme Manager

“Autism acceptance, to me, means seeing a person for who they are rather than for their diagnosis.  It is acknowledging that we are all different, with different needs, learning styles and ways of functioning in our daily lives; and believing that with the right support, everyone can make a valuable contribution to family, work and community life.

“As a programme, MOTW is inclusive of people from a diverse range of backgrounds with a diverse range of health barriers and needs. The MOTW Pathways Project runs in conjunction with our core delivery. It’s specifically designed for people with autism and focuses on helping them identify their strengths as people, rather than forcing them to be defined by their condition.”

For more information about the Autism Acceptance campaign, visit the North East Autism Society’s website. Visit the Autism Acceptance website for lots of resources to celebrate the week.

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