Each individual possesses a set of abilities and a lack of abilities. Although we continue to be more inclusive and accepting, we need to speed the transition in our society to include everyone in a meaningful way. My question is: How can we make that happen?

The Americans with Disabilities Act changed building accessibility for physically disabled people, removing constraints where once there were many. Passage of Free Appropriate Public Education started the attempt to mainstream children. So, it can be done.

For those of us working with individuals with autism, our effort might continue with changing how we perceive autism and subsequently, frame it in conversation, interaction, etc. For example, in talking with parents, I try to focus on their child’s strengths and abilities. The conversation is about what these individuals can do, how parents envision their child’s future and how to help them accomplish that.

A parent recently told me that her 13-year-old son is tired of all of the training and drugs and therapies. He just wants to be accepted as he is (who among us doesn’t?). He wants to fit in, but societal tolerance for differences doesn’t allow that.

The point I want to drive home here is that despite a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, these are talented individuals first and foremost. If they happen to be missing a few skills that we “neurotypicals” have come to expect as generally accepted, why can’t each one of us, with foibles of our own, accept their differences?

Let me liken what I’m saying to being around people who speak a different language. When I go the home of a board member who is from China, I immediately switch gears. I try to understand the language going on around me. I use my tiny bit of Chinese to interact. I don’t think, “Oh, this person has a shortcoming, he or she doesn’t speak English.” I just switch gears. I try to communicate as best I can and include everyone. Usually our board member’s parents are sitting with us at dinner and I want to include them in the conversation Her father will tell stories of China and she will translate. Yes, it’s extra work. It takes more time and patience. But everyone is included and it is meaningful to all.

I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that no one should have a diagnosis, or that no one should get extra support or accommodations. In fact, we need to provide more supports and ways to fit in so that individuals are not shunned because of their diagnosis, but embraced because of their abilities.

I know we aren’t going to change people’s perception overnight, but as I have continued to work over these past four years to develop Erik’s Ranch & Retreats, I have seen our reach expand. The media has picked up what we are doing; our social media has made people all over the world aware of our program. Corporations are taking notice. We have contacted special education teachers around the nation and they, too, are taking notice. Slowly but surely, a paradigm shift is occurring.

What ideas do you have for expanding what is accepted behavior in our society?