Hands in a heart shape holding an infinity rainbox. Underneath the words Sandra Bell ND Coach
#35 Acceptance is good, but what we really want is genuine inclusion

It’s April, so we’re back in the midst of autism acceptance month. The change from awareness to acceptance is good, and definitely a step forward. 

Last April I wrote about the right kind of awareness (here) and my final thought in that post was that awareness as a generic concept isn’t enough. It needs to be awareness that being autistic is just as valid as any other neurotype. 

And while acceptance is better than awareness, genuine inclusion would be even better.

I’m not sure if you’ve been able to see any or all of the BBC One show The Assembly where Michael Sheen is interviewed by a panel of 35 neurodivergent individuals. I’ve only been lucky enough to see one excerpt where a young man (Leo) is struggling to get his question out, possibly due to situational mutism. There is a support person that (kindly?) offers to read his question out for him, to which he is able to say no, and then able to say he is “just nervous”. I say kindly with a question mark because really in offering to ask Leo’s question for him she has, hopefully inadvertently, indicated to Leo that because he needs some time before he can ask his question, that isn’t acceptable so it’s probably best he steps aside and diminish his contribution by getting someone else who is “capable” to do it for him. But Michael Sheen emanates compassion and is happy to wait as long as needed, even saying “It’s all right, we’ve got plenty of time” and “We’ll get there won’t we” and later on whilst others are encouraging Leo, Michael says “You take as much time as you want Leo” and waits patiently with a smile on his face. Leo is able after a period of time to ask his question, and it is articulate and spoken eloquently – “You say that there is no writer other than Dylan Thomas. Do you relate to his work more on a personal level because you are both Welsh?”. Without the compassion shown by Michael Sheen that provides genuine inclusion for Leo to contribute, by giving Leo the time and compassion he needed to be able to ask his question for himself, we wouldn’t be aware that Leo is so articulate and could speak so eloquently, and he wouldn’t have the dignity and autonomy that he has been able to do it for himself. 

Giving neurodivergent people, including those who are autistic, the time and compassion they need to show what they are truly capable of means that they can contribute to their full potential and doesn’t that benefit everyone?

So what I’m after in this month, is not just awareness or acceptance, but true, genuine, compassionate inclusion – sure autistic inclusion month, or neurodivergent inclusion month probably does have a nice alliteration to it so it’s unlikely to catch on. But, maybe we just need to treat everyone with the respect they deserve every day so that we don’t need a month to remind us to treat autistic or neurodivergent people as being worthy and valid. Maybe we just need to treat everyone as being worthy and valid regardless of their neurotype or difference to the norm all the time. Now that’s a world I want to live in, and more importantly a world that I want for my kids to be able to live in.   

Thanks for reading.

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