Mental Health

Autism Awareness Month: Accepting Autism


April is Autism Awareness Month; yet, many folks are unsure of what autism exactly is.

Diagnostically, autism looks like this:

  1. Deficits in social communication and interactions: Individuals with autism may have difficulties initiating and maintaining conversations. They may have trouble using words to express themselves, or to speak altogether. They may have difficulties maintaining eye contact or understanding emotional expressions. To that end, they may have a hard time establishing friendships or camaraderie.
  2. Repetitive behaviors: Individuals with autism may engage in regimented or ritualized behaviors; they may want things to be in a certain order. You might notice repetitive body movements such as rocking, and repeated words or phrases.
  3. Sensory needs or aversions: Individuals with autism may become stressed in certain environments such as those with loud noises, large crowds, or bright lights. Likewise, these individuals may enjoy certain sensory-based activities such as deep pressure, water play, or other items that offer tactile stimulation. 
  4. These symptoms or patterns of behaviors arise during the early development period.

These traits, of course, can occur in wide variety among those diagnosed with autism: no two individuals with autism look the same. 

What we don’t spend enough time talking about are the things that make individuals with autism special and unique. Individuals with autism may be able to talk and form relationships. Some can show remorse and respond to emotion. They can go to school, learn, get jobs, and even reach celebrity status (see Temple Grandin and Dan Akyroyd). Individuals with autism can get married and have children. Some have the most brilliant of minds and possess extraordinary abilities. They have interests and take part in activities they enjoy. They get happy, sad, angry, and surprised. They can achieve many things in a world that, in many ways, is stacked against them.

At our core, we all share one thing: we are all human. We all learn differently, we all have our quirks, and we all want to be left alone sometimes. We have to remember that individuals with autism are no different, and that societal rules make it harder for them to adapt sometimes. This month, we not only want to stress awareness of autism but ACCEPTANCE of autism. The more we talk about what individuals with autism CAN do instead of what they CAN’T do will help society maximize these individuals; full potential. The more we can accept and do our part to include individuals with autism, and all individuals, the greater we can all be.

I hope everyone becomes more inspired to learn about autism. We’re excited to have numerous blog posts written by professionals and caregivers. Topics include occupational therapy, sensory needs, stress reduction, behavior management, guardianship, respite, speech and language, and much more. Please check back often, share the posts, and leave comments. We also don’t want to forget about April being Counseling Awareness Month and Occupational Therapy Month; both professions play an integral role in working with those with autism, as well as many others. 

Tom Flis, MS, BCBA, LBA, LCPC, is the behavioral services manager at Sheppard Pratt Health System, overseeing the inpatient behavioral programs across both the Towson and Ellicott City campuses. Tom is a board certified and licensed behavior analyst and a licensed clinical professional counselor who has more than 15 years of experience working with children and adults diagnosed with a developmental disability across multiple settings, including in-home, schools, inpatient, outpatient, research, and out in the community.