Student Thomas Odley helps ACES coordinator Grace Imhoff at an educational table outside of KU.
Tori Miller | News Editor
Autism acceptance requires people not only to think but to act inclusively in order to welcome autism in a positive light. The Office of Learning Resources welcomed all UD students, faculty and staff to participate in Autism Acceptance Week (AAW) March 27 through 31 to celebrate individuals with autism, bring visibility and promote inclusion on campus.
This neurodiversity-focused week acted as a kick off for National Autism Acceptance Month and offered educational opportunities for everyone on campus to engage with. These events included building sensory-friendly spaces, hosting educational tables outside of KU, a student-led panel discussion and an AAW walk starting at UD Chapel.
The director for the Office of Learning Resources John Harrelson shared his support for AAW, saying that the university needs to counter the idea that students with autism are incompatible with our learning and living environment.
“It [AAW] aims to celebrate the unique perspectives and experiences that these students bring to our campus community,” he said. “We hope to continue this tradition every year going forward and expand our programming in support of this student population.”
UD has already developed programs to specifically help neurodiverse students on campus, such as Academic Coaching Extended Services (ACES). In connection with the Office of Learning Resources, ACES has four learning objectives for their cohort: develop academic skills, build friendships and sense of belonging, know how to self-advocate and identify and utilize resources for continued growth.
ACES coordinator Grace Imhoff assisted with the planning and implementation of AAW this year and advocates for autism every day of the year.
“This year we really wanted to involve the whole UD community in our programs to promote inclusion. As well as ensure the language we use this week and month is focused on acceptance and not awareness,” she said. “We are not bringing awareness to autism, rather we are advocating for the acceptance, inclusion and celebration of people with autism.”
Provided at their educational tables, ACES handed out fliers emphasizing the importance of language when talking about people with autism. The flier talked about the use of inclusive language as essential, describing the importance of using person-first language by putting the person before the disability.
Acceptance is the first step toward progress, but this can be difficult with the persistent stereotypes and misunderstandings regarding people with autism, Imhoff said. Instead of trying to change or fix people to fit within the standards of neurotypical society, she suggests removing barriers to ensure all people feel included and considered.
“It is really important for people to understand each individual with autism is unique with different needs, strengths and experiences,” she said.
In the future, Imhoff hopes the ACES program can grow and support more students. She envisions providing more educational and professional development opportunities for faculty and staff on best practices for teaching and working with neurodiverse students.
To incorporate inclusion in daily life, Imhoff encourages students to keep educating themselves about autism and to utilize available resources. As a call to action, everyone should seek stories, media or resources created by autistic people and embrace the differences that make individuals beautiful and unique, she said.
“Continue learning about autism!” Imhoff said. “One of the best things you can do is educate yourself on the lived experiences of people with autism.”
To support those with autism, check out the College Autism Network and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. For more information on ACES and the Office of Learning Resources, check out their websites or visit their office on the ground floor of Roesch Library.