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How to support Autistic people in your community this Autism Acceptance Month

April is Autism Acceptance Month. This is a time to reflect on the experiences of Autistic people everywhere and to consider ways to create more autism affirming spaces. I’m a doctor who was diagnosed with autism in my early 50s. My journey with autism has given me the privilege not only to help other Autistic adults get diagnosed, but also to see the ways that simple things, like acceptance, can help Autistic people.

Autism isn’t just for children. About 7 million U.S. adults are Autistic and may have lived years knowing they are different without knowing why.

Autism acceptance in the community can take many forms including discussing sensory concerns and avoiding triggers to reduce anxiety, increase comfort, and improve focus. Burnout can be prevented with breaks, quiet places, and scheduled time for recovery in busy schedules. Predictability and routine can be reassuring for Autistic people. Stick to the plan, and if the plan must change, give as much warning as possible.

Just because an Autistic person is not looking at you does not mean they are not listening. Walking, tapping, fidgeting, shaking, running, biking, and many other repetitive behaviors are an Autistic person’s way of focusing and relaxing. Managing sensory needs, providing rest and predictability, and allowing movement are simple ways to support Autistic people.

Employers can make workplace accommodations to support Autistic people. A private workspace with fewer distractions could help Autistic employees that struggle with interruptions. Creating dimmer and quieter environments or flexible working arrangements could help those struggling with sensory overload.

As a physician, it concerns me that Autistic people often do not meet their routine healthcare needs, have twice the rate of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, and have higher rates of hearing loss, autoimmune disease, and sleep problems. As a result, the average Autistic person’s life is shortened by 16 years compared to non-Autistic people.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Healthcare providers can offer simple sensory accommodations, like ear plugs, headphones, or sunglasses. Lowering the lights, closing a door, or offering a weighted blanket can be soothing also.

Predictability is important for Autistic people, where surprises can cause distress. Detailed discussions about planned tests or procedures is critical. Communication differences between Autistic people and staff are common and asking questions to confirm understanding helps close communication gaps.

The goal is to allow Autistic people to be themselves. Acceptance is the foundation from which Autistic spaces grow. Acceptance is about breaking down stigma, changing environments, and building positive perceptions about Autistic people. Celebrating Autistic people and helping us reach our potential is what Autism Acceptance Month is all about!

Online Autism screening tools that you can use on your own such as the Autism Quotient (AQ) or the Ritvo Autism & Asperger Diagnostic Survey-14 (RAADS-14) are available. Helpful resources can be found at the Association for Autism and Neurodiversity and The Autism Society. For a formal autism diagnosis, contact your primary care or mental health provider to start the conversation.

Dr. Thomas Pineo serves as the Medical Director and Hospitalist at UPMC Community Osteopathic Hospital in Harrisburg, PA.

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Pamela K Coyle 1949-2024

Pam received her Master’s degree in library science from Clarion University in 1978. She never lost her love of reading or her enthusiasm for libraries.

Daily Forecast, April 21, 2024

Franklin County Forecast: In the forecast for today, we are expecting overcast clouds, with a high of 52.23°F and a low of 35.2°F. The humidity

Candie Sue Diffenderfer 1963-2024

Candie worked in the Prothonotary’s office at the Fulton County Courthouse, and later at Irving Accounting and U.S.A. Cartage in Williamsport, MD.

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