Celebrate Autism *Acceptance* Month, not Autism Awareness Month

It’s April, so if you’re like me, your social media feeds have been dominated with Autism Awareness Month profile pics and messages. I don’t have the stats to back this up, but anecdotally, I feel like Autism Awareness Month has become one of the most mainstream, widely known awareness months out there (ranking just behind Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in my eyes). It’s impressive, and a testament to the hard work of the autistic community and advocates!

That said, before you change your own profile pic or “Light it up blue,” I’d encourage you to consider supporting a different cause this month: Autism Acceptance Month.

Autism acceptance month is...inclusion!Autism Acceptance Month is a concept that has been around for a while within the autistic rights movement. As an allistic–non-autistic–person myself, I don’t want to man-and-able-splain, when autistic people are more than capable of speaking for themselves. So here’s what Autism Acceptance Month is, in their own words:

“Autism acceptance means embracing autism as a natural part of the spectrum of human diversity and accepting autism as one of many different legitimate, meaningful, and valuable ways of experiencing the world. Autism acceptance means believing that autism doesn’t need to be fixed or cured for autistics to be happy and live good lives.

Autism acceptance means treating autistic people as members of a minority group who are entitled to the same rights as everyone else. It means changing the goal for autistics from “indistinguishability” or “recovery” to living with needed supports and gaining equal opportunity with neurotypicals — supporting autistics as they are. It means helping autistic children grow into autistic adults, rather than mourning the nonexistent neurotypical child they never were.” [Source: Autism Acceptance Day, Autistic Self Advocacy Network]

For such a small change in words, reframing April as a month of acceptance is a powerful concept. I think people are pretty well aware of autism these days! The current research suggests that 1 in 68 children have autism, and after years of media saturation and national discourse, I’d challenge you to find someone that has never heard about autism before. But in the words of Autistic Hoya, “Not all awareness is good awareness, and awareness itself can be the farthest thing from acceptance.”

For years, any discussion or news around autism has always focused on one thing: finding a cure. Vaccines are to blame! Maybe we can find the gene that causes autism and fix it! If you have an autistic child, these are the therapies you have to do so they can be as normal as possible! We’ve focused all our collective energy on seeing autism as a problem that has to be fixed and cured.

But–and here’s the radical idea–maybe autistic people don’t want to be cured. Maybe they like themselves just as they are, and they’d like others to be more accepting and understanding of them. Instead of investing our money in research for a cure, why don’t we spend more money providing services to autistic people that allow them to have more happy, empowering, and successful lives?

“[…]the concept of a “cure” for autism is profoundly unethical and leads to dangerous and even deadly consequences for autistic people. It is also out of line with the consensus of the scientific community, which has recognized the idea of cure as scientifically implausible. Research towards “cure” does not help autistic people or our families, and after decades of protest from autistic people, the public has begun to realize that a world without autistic people is not an ethical or desirable goal.” [Autistic Self Advocacy Network]

Maybe allistic people should instead value the many strengths and abilities that autistic people have, and view autism not as a problem, but simply as a difference. Not abnormal or invaluable, but instead, as a normal and valuable part of the range of human expression and experience.

So this April, I encourage everyone: let’s try to be more accepting.

If you liked this post, you’d love our upcoming webinar Understanding autism: Essential tips & tools for youth workers. It’s happening on Thursday, April 27th, so be sure to register today!

Inclusive marketing: 7 tips for accessible website design

If you want to learn more about inclusive marketing best practices, download our guidebook!

Closeup photo of a keyboardThese days, the first place that people look when they want to learn more about your organization is your website. Your website is your first and best chance to create a positive impression with many people, but is it creating a good impression for you with people with disabilities?

Is your website accessible and inclusive? Welcoming to all? Because let me tell you, if families of youth with disabilities get a bad vibe from your website, they’re not even going to both reaching out or trying your program.

While web design is a very detailed subject, there are some some basic and relatively easy things you can do to make your website more accessible to people with disabilities.

Continue reading “Inclusive marketing: 7 tips for accessible website design”

Inclusive marketing: How to subtitle videos on a budget

If you want to learn more about inclusive marketing best practices, download our guidebook!

"CC" in word cloud, the symbol for Closed CaptioningWhen it comes to making your marketing inclusive for people with disabilities, one of the biggest difficulties is subtitling videos. In a small nonprofit, you don’t have the budget to be able to pay someone to create subtitles for all your videos (we’ve tried it, and boy, can it be expensive!), and you certainly don’t have the time to transcribe all your videos or the video-editing software to then add those transcriptions to your video. This is a real challenge, and one we’ve faced first-hand at PYD.

But lucky for you, there’s a solution! Over the course of our dealing with this challenge, we’ve come across a strategy that is free, quick, and easy for anyone to do, regardless of your technological know-how or background.

Continue reading “Inclusive marketing: How to subtitle videos on a budget”

Stories from our 2016 Mentor of the Year

At Mentor Appreciation Night this fall, we honored Richard Cohen with our Mentor of the Year award. Over the past 4+ years, Richard has been an exceptional mentor for four young adults. We are grateful for Richard’s passion for and contribution to the lives of his mentees. When accepting the award, Richard highlighted the times spent with his mentees and shared what makes the experience of mentoring so special for him:

[Lightly edited for clarity]

About 25 years ago, my wife Judith and I lived in New York State. And Judith was working in a high school, I was working alone as a woodworker.

For the high school, Judith instituted a community service program. One of the programs that she created was for a high school class that goes into a psychiatric hospital once a week. It was a tremendous success. The kids loved it and the patients loved it too. And the kids wrote papers about it and it really inspired me to see what might be available in doing this kind of thing.

And once I started, it became very clear to me that there is more love, friendship, fulfillment, interest, fun, and all the best stuff in life through doing this stuff. So, I wanted to continue to do it and I don’t want to stop. I hope the people I interacted with got out of it as much as I did.

I do want to highlight just briefly each of the four mentees I’ve had, because they are real highlights for me to experience, being with them.

So, the first one was a young man named Alex. Before we were matched, I remember Steve suggesting I should become Alex’s mentor because we both like Rock and Roll, and that maybe I could relate to that.

So, Alex and I met and I learned that he had met Ringo Star through Make-A-Wish. And his bedroom walls were plastered with his music posters. We decided that we would get together and try playing music and singing songs. And I’m a rudimentary guitar player, and the only feedback I got was from Judith was from the other room, “You have to tune it first!”

So I went very excitedly to meet Alex at the Ivy Street School, and the first day, we agreed to meet at this time, they said Alex couldn’t see me. And the next three times I went, that same thing happened each time. I was getting a little discouraged.

And then Alex’s mother got a hold of me. A mother’s love is the strongest power on earth. And she basically explained to me how he had had brain cancer as a child. She also told me that Alex had Tourette’s and had depression and migraines daily, and was always exhausted from his medication.

Thankfully, I was patient because and we got to the point where we could get together. Some days he could do 15 minutes or whatever, and that was that.

And the day that I will always remember is when he found his voice. He was singing a few songs, and then he got very serious. And he said, “Richard? Do you think we could do Wild Thing?” So I started off, dun dun dun dun dun. And he goes, “Wild Thing!” He belts it out.

And as he is doing that, the wonderful woman who runs the school, walks into the room and goes, “You make my heart sing!” And it was so amazing, we were trying to do this, and it was frustrating, and there’s the three of us celebrating, and that kind of stuff is very cool when it happens.

I was very sad when Alex moved away, but then Steve hooked me up with somebody else. He knew I was a woodworker, and had somebody who was also into woodworking. Andrew’s grandfather, who he dearly loved had passed away, was a very talented furniture maker and had a home shop. So Andrew and I had a chance to study and appreciate his grandpa’s work, and I think it helped him get people through bad times. Andrew’s mom once asked me what it’s like woodworking with Andrew. If you don’t know Andrew, you would think this is an odd thing, but if you know him, you understand exactly. I said, he’s a very loving guy. That’s Andrew — you spend an hour with him and you feel differently. So it’s a new experience of woodworking.

It is interesting the word partnership in this thing. But another component to being Andrew’s mentor was that, Carl and Jennie, his folks, are the most world class parents and have supported me in every way, being with Andrew, understanding Andrew, and I know that they and Andrew will be friends forever, I hope.

And one other thing: Andrew loves PYD and has participated in all kinds of stuff here. And I always thought he would make a sensational mentor. So look out for him.

And then there is Jake.

Steve told me there was this guy who was, among other things, interested in music and I thought maybe we would play music together. It was interesting, when I first met Jake, it was not easy to understand him. But, he was, from the get go, one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met.

Jake has non-verbal learning disorder of sorts which caused him a lot of anxiety and frustration. And the thrill of being with him is that I’ve seen the responsibilities he has taken upon himself and how much he’s grown. Understandably, initially he was very concerned about his disability. Could he find medical help? Counseling help? But, now he talks about things like meditation and prayer and even things like self-acceptance.

So frankly, I’m in awe of you, Jake, and how you’ve hung in there. And I look forward every week to being with you and I learn something new each time.

But the last match I wanted to talk about is current and, it’s kind of challenging. It is with a young man who really has not had any family or education, either. But he’s a very sweet person, and before we were matched, Steve explained to me that his interests were rap music, which I’m not too conversant with, and basketball, which I used to love to play 55 years ago. So, I told Steve, you know, you better mention to him that I’m 70 years old so that, when we get together, he’s not disappointed if an old man shows up.

So anyhow, I met with Juan and I explained I don’t play ball anymore, but we would go for a walk, get a slice of pizza, and see where it all went.

So the next week, I go to meet Juan and I was real happy to see that he was at the door to let me in. And he happened to be holding a basketball.

So, we went on our walk and then went down the street and over to a park, and next thing you know, we’re on a basketball court. It was one of the hottest days of the year, but we shot baskets for an hour. And for the next 8 weeks, I couldn’t wait to play.

So he actually became my mentee, without even saying a word to me, or without even knowing he did it. He showed me I had a disability called “I can’t because I’m too old.”

He taught me to not play that card.

Since Juan hopes to become a chef, when the weather got bad, we made some pizza and some cookies. The guys in Juan’s house who were all sort of, like, big football sized guys, but they appreciated the food we make a lot. Juan has become very popular.

But I’m just so grateful to be a part of an organization like this and have people like that to help me, and it’s a partnership, and I want to thank you.

Eli Wolff

Eli A. Wolff is a Mentoring Coordinator at Partners for Youth with Disabilities. Eli also serves as adviser for the Royce Fellowship for Sport and Society at Brown University and co-leads the Power of Sport Lab, a platform to fuel and magnify innovation, inclusion and social change through sport.

Eli’s past work has been at the intersection of research, education and advocacy in and through sport. In 2000, Eli helped to establish the ESPY Award for Best Male and Female Athlete with a Disability, and he organized the national disability sport organizations to support professional golfer Casey Martin in his successful case against the PGA before the U.S. Supreme Court. From 2003 to 2008, Eli led a global effort to include provisions addressing sport and recreation within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. More recently, Eli has helped to lead a national effort for the inclusion of student-athletes with disabilities in high school and college athletic opportunities.

Eli has also contributed to the international sport for development and social change community and has assisted with the global efforts for the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace on April 6 of each year. In 2016, Eli co-developed Mentoring for Change and the International Mentoring Day as an annual part of January’s National Mentoring Month, on Muhammad Ali’s birthday, January 17, as a collaboration between the National Mentoring Partnership, the Muhammad Ali Center and Epicenter Community.

Eli was a member of the United States Paralympic Soccer Team in the 1996 and 2004 Paralympic Games. Eli is a graduate of Brown University and has an MA in Sport Studies from the German Sport University of Cologne.

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