Can Autism Acceptance and Autism Recovery Coexist?
04/16/2014 - 07:41
Lisa Friedman
Lisa Friedman
Lisa Friedman

Editor's Note: As part of a dialogue about autism and our community during Autism Awareness Month, we are sharing Educator Lisa Friedman's blog about autism advocacy, acceptance and recovery. It was originally featured on Think Inclusive. Please share your comments below.

In January, I wrote a blog about a poet and self-advocate named Scott Lentine, who has autism. I continue to be impressed by self-advocates who use the power of their words to inspire others to greater levels of understanding. As a blogger, I can relate. I write to inspire, motivate and support others on the journey toward inclusion.

In learning about him, however, I began to grapple with the question of whether there's a tension between the concepts of autism acceptance and autism recovery, and now I'd like to share that question with the New Normal community.

Here is one of Scott’s most recent poems:

Acceptance of Autism

Wanting to be free

Wanting to be me

Trying to make people see

And accept the real me

Some people think my voice is too loud

And that my mannerisms strike them as being odd

This perception of me by others keeps me feeling blue

But there are plenty of struggles in life that I must get through

I am determined to show my critics my true personality

Hoping that people move away from their narrow-minded mentalities

I want them to know that I am a bright young man

Who is willing to take on as many challenges in life as I can

I want to make new friends and create a new start

Like to develop new relationships with an open heart

I hope to be accepted for the person that I am

So people can understand a true autistic man

Scott’s poetry is gaining recognition. Recently, he was interviewed by Autism Live, a web-based show providing support, resources and entertainment to parents and professionals working with people, like Scott, on the autism spectrum.

Yet on the site's “About” page, the first two lines of show host Shannon Penrod’s bio reads: “Shannon Penrod is the proud mother of a nine-year old who is recovering from Autism. Her son Jem was diagnosed at the age of two and a half after having lost virtually all of his language and social skills.”

Does this raise an uncomfortable flag for anyone? It does for me. My advocacy does not stem from a place of “curing” or “eliminating” one’s disability; rather, I recognize that each of us is unique and special, with gifts to be shared and challenges to overcome. So this left me feeling more than a little unsettled.

I do not in any way seek to diminish the value of this web show or Scott’s experience. I continue to be impressed by his writing and I am so pleased that he has gained the recognition of this program.

But let’s have the conversation. Can autism acceptance and autism recovery coexist?

Lisa Friedman is the Education Co-Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. She oversees an extensive special needs program within the religious school, with programs designed to help students learn about their Jewish heritage, feel connected to their Jewish community and successfully learn Hebrew. Additionally, Lisa facilitates conversations about inclusion throughout the synagogue as whole and helps the congregation to shape its best practices. Lisa writes a blog about her experiences in Jewish special education:


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Will you please contact me so that I can assist any family with any questions about how to prepare for future expenses by creating the proper trust for the child with special needs. Michael Stern mstern550@gmail,com

This is such a touchy topic, Lisa. I accept our son, Ben, for who he is. However, like Sean, I too would jump at the chance for Ben's autism to no longer exist. And I base that, in large part, to what Ben has articulated. On a regular basis, he asks God to take away his autism or question why God created his with autism.

And I too have been accused of somehow teaching my child not to accept his reality and to not be proud of who he is -- autism and all.

Can autism acceptance and autism recovery co-exist? I can only speak from my perspective. I have two autistic children, one 14 and one 11. Neither speak; neither is toilet trained; my son in particular engages in violent behavior which results in damage to our house and trips to the ER. It has been very stressful. If there was a chance that my children could be healed of autism, you better believe I would take it. If someone believes otherwise, that's their prerogative. We can all live together.

HOWEVER... I have not received all that much acceptance from the crowd that promotes acceptance. I have been told that it is my fault that my children don't communicate. I have had it suggested that I am an awful parent because I don't accept my children as they are. I may be a lot of things, but an awful parent I am not.

So to answer the question, yes, they can co-exist. But no, they don't co-exist.

Perfectly, thoughtfully, truthfully stated, Sean MacNair. Thank you for your insight. This autism mom, activist and advocate appreciates your candor and honestly very much.

Thank you for sharing your experience, Sean. It is terribly unfortunate that you have been criticized for your parenting. That is never ok. And I wish that acceptance was more inherent in our society. We have a long way to go. I think well written thoughts like yours can help to move us forward.