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Rethinking Autism Awareness and Acceptance

This is a guest article from Liz Franklin, MSW, LICSW,  Associate Director of Behavioral Health at CLUES

In recent years, advocates from the Autism Community have pushed for Autism Awareness month to be re-envisioned as Autism Acceptance Month. I feel like this change parallels changes I have experienced in my own understanding of Autism as well as in the broader mental health field.

When I was in grad school in the early 2000s, a lot of attention was being paid to soaring numbers of kids diagnosed with Autism. The way I was taught about the impacts of Autism was very deficit-based. It left me believing people on the Spectrum had serious behavioral and daily living problems, little interest in connecting with others, and not much emotional or intellectual life.

The kids with Autism that I’ve seen for therapy challenged all those “truths” I was taught. Working to understand how Autistic kids see the world and witnessing what it can feel like to be in school systems and communities that don’t value their processing styles, has brought me to the neurodiversity movement.

Neurodiversity is the idea that there are many ways to understand and interact with the world around us, and that there is no one “best” way to function. Actually, it benefits us as a community to value multiple ways of making sense of the world. Those differing views can help us solve problems in innovative ways, for example. But if we really believe that, as a community, we need to find ways to bridge communication gaps, make our spaces more inviting for different sensory needs, be more open to different learning styles, and find patience and curiosity for people with different social skills and styles.

At CLUES, our Behavioral Health team is working to increase our capacity to serve individuals with Autism and their families well. Too many Latinx families have had to choose between providers who can speak their language or understand their culture, or providers who specialize in Autism services. We are building our individual providers’ skills now and laying the groundwork to create Autism-specific services soon.

If you think you or your child may be on the Autism Spectrum, please consider getting yourself or your child psychological testing to learn more. Receiving an Autism diagnosis often brings up mixed feelings, and it can be tempting to avoid having suspicions confirmed. However, these testing processes can help us learn a lot about people’s strengths; how to best help them learn; areas of difficulty to focus on in services; and how to focus advocacy efforts. For help accessing this kind of evaluation, talk to your/your child’s doctor, or call CLUES’ Behavioral Health Department for more information and for help accessing testing. Call 651-379-4200 Option #4.

Finally, throughout the month of April, we will be sharing with you some of the resources and community connections that have helped us in our own learning. We hope you will join us on Thursday, April 13th, at 5 PM, for ourEarly Years Matter: Early Childhood Facebook Live event series in Spanish” focused on creating inclusion for Autistic people. Happy Autism Acceptance Month!

About Liz Franklin, MSW, LICSW, Associate Director of Behavioral Health at CLUES

Liz Franklin, MSW, LICSW, is the Associate Director of Behavioral Health at CLUES.  She also teaches about child development, trauma, and therapy with kids and teens in the Masters of Social Work program at the University of Minnesota.  Liz has worked with Latinx kids and families in the Twin Cities since 2005.  Her specialties include helping families understand resources and systems to advocate for their kids, and helping both neurotypical and neurodiverse young people heal from trauma.


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