The Many Faces of Autism

accessiBe News

In honor of April being Autism Acceptance Month, we asked accessiBe's Head of Content and our autism-focused nonprofit partners, to share what "autism is" to them.

Lia Ciner Claster

When my son was little, we didn’t know why he was different. But we knew he was just not experiencing the world the same way that his peers were.

Dropping him off at daycare was a nightmare. He would scream for me when I turned to leave, like many of the other 3-year-olds. But unlike the other toddlers, he would not get distracted and soon forget Mommy had left. Instead, he would scream at the top of his lungs until he couldn’t breathe. This would go on for hours. Until the teacher would call me and say she gave up, I’d need to come get him.

Social interactions were exhausting and intensive - both for him and for me. While other moms sat on the benches at the park, chatting, while their kids dug in the sand and “whee’d” down the slide, I had to stay right behind my son, there to intervene when he would inevitably get into some kind of altercation with whichever child happened to try to interact with him.

And yet… he could be incredibly loving, affectionate, and sweet. He was also so noticeably smart that he would crack people up. He started speaking at just 11 months old and could tell you what time it was from a face clock at a year and a half. He watched National Geographic Kids and remembered everything about every animal and habitat. I loved him so much and was also constantly overwhelmed by him. School was always a problem, potty-training seemed like it would never happen, and I couldn’t imagine him ever making a friend.

When he finally got diagnosed with autism at 8 years old, it was a revelation. He switched into a class set up for high-functioning kids on the spectrum and immediately began to thrive. The structure, small group, and trained teachers provided a place for him to grow and learn, without the berating negative feedback that the regular class rained down on him. He was accepted, understood, and appreciated. As a mom, it was nothing short of miraculous.

Fast forward to today. My son is almost 15 years old. He’s responsible, kind, and cool. He plays drums, is on the local football team, and is always out with friends. He’s already had his heart broken. He prepared and succeeded beautifully at his Bar Mitzvah service and made a beautiful speech to his community of family and friends. His autism is a part of the funny, interesting, kind, and brilliant person that he is. He is open and not self-conscious about it. He has many friends who are in the autism school system, but even more who aren’t. 

There is no universal “autism” experience. Autism is a deeply complex and varied disability - it affects each person so uniquely, that it’s often hard to believe that two people with autism are actually diagnosed with the same thing.

To me, autism is… an integral part of my son. And I wouldn’t have him any other way.

Autism Is…

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, we asked some of our autism-related nonprofit partners to share what autism is to them.

“Autism is preparing for an outing and having fun in the community!” - Pal Experiences

“Autism is invisible. Until it isn’t.” - Champion Autism Network

“Autism is another way of thinking and being.” - Autistic Nottingham

“Autism is being determined never to give up.” - Meristem: Autism Program for Young Adults

“Autism is not a disability it's a superability.” - Foundation

“Autism is honest, creative, detail-oriented, passionate, and very individualized.” - Alternatives Inc.

“Autism is the lens through which I experience the world” - Umbrella Alliance U.S.

“Autism is discovering that you really are different than most, and then find out that you are awesome in your own unusual ways” - The Neurodiversity Foundation

“Autism is part of our community.” - Ehlers-Danlos Society

“Autism is a unique neurological variation that enriches our world with diverse perspectives, talents, and ways of experiencing life.” - Spirit Club Foundation

“Autism is a common diagnosis lots of adults and children receive, but many people don't know what Autism is” - CP

“Autism is embracing life without limits.” - UCP of the Inland Empire

“Autism is self-discovery.” - Morgan’s

“Autism is a common thread to describe the way my and so many others' brains work. Despite the vast swath of differences and support needs, it's a connector that gives us answers and community." - Autism Alliance of Michigan

“Autism is a huge learning opportunity” - The Traveling Gnomes

“Autism is so many things and it gives us pride when it touches our lives.” - Community Living Hamilton

“Autism is being direct, honest, and independent” - Sturge Weber Foundation

“Autism is an embrace of the extraordinary within the ordinary, illuminating an individual's talents and challenges that inspire us to expand our definitions of humankind.” - La Grange Area Department of Special Education ​(LADSE)

“Autism is a blessing in disguise” - The Arc of Larimer County

A big thank you to all the nonprofits working towards autism acceptance and inclusion who shared insights on this topic.