MARYLAND (WDVM) — Worldwide, one in 54 people have autism. In the DMV, there are several organizations and research clinics that work toward educating and creating a more inclusive community. One of those organizations is the Autism Society of America.
Christopher Banks, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Autism Society of America said, “We must do what we can do support them. We’re going to be a richer community in flavor, content, celebratory activities when we include more.”
Being inclusive and supportive and creating connections is what the Autism Society of America works to do in the community. “We’re creating a world where everyone in the autism community is connected to the support they need when they need them.”
Part of bringing those supports begins with understanding exactly what autism is. Meagan Wills, a Clinical Psychologist at the Center for Autism at Children’s National, explained, “It is a core social disability, so I think that’s kind of the broad way to look at it. What it means is different for every kid, teen, young adult.”
Autism is something a person is born with, but how it manifests in each person is different.
Wills explained, “It truly is a spectrum. We say when you’ve met one autistic individual, you’ve met one autistic individual. Everyone who comes through my door is very different.”
“About 2.6% of the population is on the spectrum of autism, and the spectrum varies from those who have higher support needs to lower support needs,” said Banks.
To further explain the support needs, Banks compares it to two people in a room together, and one is cold.
“We may make an accommodation for you by turning up the heater, closing the window, something like that. Well, it can be as simple as those types of accommodations. Some are a little more complex. Maybe it is those supports,” he said.
The Autism Society and other organizations in the DMV are also taking steps to ensure employers and others within the community understand and can make needed accommodations.
Banks said, “It’s about creating a sense where, when there is a challenging situation, we’re aware of it, we accept it and we say what can we do to make it easier for you.”
By taking the time to do that, there’s a sense of acceptance that might not have been there before.
“Acceptance leads to inclusion. Inclusion leads to a sense of belonging, and that’s what connection is about,” Banks added.
“Now, it’s so important, I think a lot of people have heard the word autism and have a basic understanding, but really moving to that acceptance piece,” Wills said.
In that acceptance, Wills said it’s important to bring people with autism into the conversation of where we as a community fall short and go next.
She explained, “That’s kind of the next step, not only getting the word out and thinking more about neurodiversity and how important it is but hearing from individuals who have autism.”
In a society that values inclusion and diversity, that would be the best way to ensure proper support and growth in our communities.