Now that it’s officially April, you may be seeing more articles and headlines about autism – April is Autism Acceptance Month.  The Autism Society first held National Autism Awareness month in 1970 and the UN General Assembly designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day.

In 2021, the Autism Society of America officially announced the change from Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month with a focus on celebrating the uniqueness that neurodiversity brings.

The shift from awareness to acceptance is significant. It’s time to move the conversation forward to accepting and including all different types of neurodiversity. This Forbes article by Nancy Doyle, professor of business psychology, does a great job explaining why this shift is so important.

Doyle writes, “We are interested in change, not awareness. Knowledge about genetic phenotypes and prevalence rates are less helpful than ideas for improvements to the school day, the working environment, policing, the intensity of information overload expected in everyday modern living.”

Strengths and support needs of autism

In my work with autistic young adults and their families, we often discuss the duality of autism. On one hand, autism brings incredible gifts and superpowers – the ability to intensely focus on special interests or tasks, noticing small and significant details or having a unique sense of humor are just some of the wonderful personality traits that you may find among autistic friends and family members.

On the other hand, autism can also make situations or transitions more difficult, such as sensory regulation, managing anxiety or dealing with changes to expectations or routines.

Today, let’s focus on the key strength and support need related to social skills as outlined AANE’s resource “What is Autism?”

Strength: Desire to connect

The autistic young adults I know and work with are some of the most determined individuals I’ve met. They crave genuine, real connection with their friends, family and peers and are willing to put in the effort to make it happen.

These brilliant and kind individuals have varied interests spanning art, literature, video, sports and more and sharing these interests with others can be a great source of joy and connection.

Many of my clients enjoy Dungeons and Dragons. Their campaigns are very important to them as a means for connecting with other young adults. In fact, a number of my clients include D&D related goals in their work with me.

For example, one client who serves as a Dungeon Master expressed a desire to finish their weekly campaign prep earlier in the week. It was so important to them to produce quality character arcs and story lines and to be as prepared as possible because they want the others they play with to have a great experience. We discussed their current process and weekly schedule, identified some things that were getting in their way, and established a goal around better and earlier game prep.

Support Need: Social Pragmatics

The flip side of this coin is that social norms can be a source of difficulty for autistic teens and young adults. Interpreting social cues and nonverbal requires nuance and detailed understanding of the many different factors that combine to create effective communication.

Sarcasm, tone of voice and gestures can be difficult for some autistic young adults to interpret and respond to in real time.

When we are developing goals around social communication issues, my clients often express frustration regarding their ability to effectively participate in in-person group discussions such as a group chatting together after class or while eating a meal together. They tell me that reading body language and social cues while also actually processing the their peers’ comments can be nearly impossible. They know they are not participating in these discussions at the same level as their peers and worry the quality of their relationships suffers, but are embarrassed to admit this.

When this comes up in coaching, I suggest a self-advocacy goal around disclosing to their peers that they may be a little slower to completely process incoming information or may miss social cues (like sarcasm). Often this includes chatting individually with friends to disclose the challenge and then creating a “catch phrase” or hand gesture they can use during discussions when they need a bit more time. Examples are “hang on, still processing” or holding up a finger to indicate “just a second.” 

Social skills are so important to building a rich and fulfilling life and I’m so excited to partner with Mara McLoughin for a free webinar next month all about social skills coaching. Learn more here.

So what? 

As we head into Autism Acceptance month, I ask you to be thoughtful about which perspectives you value this month. Take the time to seek out voices from the neurodivergent community, rather than about the neurodivergent community. Approach autism on an individual level rather than making assumptions about entire groups of people and we’ll get closer to building workplaces, schools and families that are accepting of all types of neurodiversity.


Running on empty: Self-Care for Parents of Neurodivergent Kids