Expecting Acceptance: A Parent's Perspective

Story written by parent of autistic teen for Autism Acceptance Month

May 6, 2022

Tom, left, and his brother Joe attending a Kansas City Chiefs-Denver Bronocs game
Tom, left, and his brother Joe attending a Kansas City Chiefs-Denver Bronocs game

Nine years ago, when my son first spent a week at the Munroe-Meyer Institute’s Camp Munroe, I hoped he would make a friend.

As Autism Acceptance Month begins, my son -- who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum about 13 years ago -- is a member of his school’s JRTOC Corps. He is working toward becoming an Eagle Scout. He is maintaining, with educational supports, passing grades as he nears the end of his freshman year of high school. And if he doesn’t have a tight circle of friends the way I did at his age, he does have a group of friends at his school and has attended dances and other school-based events with them. (He also takes part in the Autism Action Partnership’s laudable Circle of Friends program.)

For my wife and me, acceptance has always been the goal. My son has received acceptance from many places and many people during his journey. Of course, there are still barriers and challenges. But when I think back to the days immediately following his diagnosis, when I was riddled with anxiety for his future, his accomplishments fill me with pride. And, though he still lags in his social skills, his cognitive and conversational abilities continue to grow.

Tom is aware that he is a person with autism (or an autistic person -- he has not settled on his self-description of choice). He does not regard it as a disability; it is a facet of himself, the way his brother is tall or his sister is slender. Sometimes, he will get discouraged because some tasks are more difficult for him than they otherwise might be. More often, he just shrugs and gets on with his life. When he talks about his own future, he does not consider limits. There may be some, eventually, but even then, his personality is such that I expect he will greet them with equanimity and try to figure out some work-around.

It is hard to watch your child -- any child -- grow up. It is difficult to trust that the world will be kind to them. It can be scary to visualize the pitfalls that may lie ahead, particularly when you are no longer there to help navigate the road.

But there is always the hope for acceptance. The demand for recognition. The possibility of friendship, love and happiness.

As this Autism Acceptance Month begins, I’m thankful for the supportive communities, at MMI, at his school and beyond, which have welcomed my son, which have recognized his charm, his intelligence, his quirky sense of humor.

Acceptance seems so little to ask. I am so grateful for it.

But my son? He simply expects it. And after all, why shouldn’t he?