Advocates for Acceptance
In our practice we recognize differing communication and learning
abilities. As clinicians, we work to increase our clients’ access to social
opportunities and interactions. We understand that all people have a unique way
of expressing their thoughts and ideas.
Within the nature of the human condition, skills vary across domains,
and throughout an individual’s lifetime and circumstances.
In Cynthia Lord’s Newbery Honor Book, “Rules”, a young girl describes
her life with her brother with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although this
book is acclaimed for the narrator’s perspective of having a sibling with ASD,
a second plot exists within the story of the girl’s emerging friendship with
another child who uses Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Peer
pressure affects this relationship and the author highlights the courage it
takes to advocate for acceptance.
Many of us may not have a personal sense of having a socially perceived
disability, or having a relative or close friend with a socially perceived disability.
We may benefit from increasing our own awareness:
- Read books and articles which share the perspectives of both
individuals with communication challenges and their family and friends.
- Watch films which feature the feelings and events which may reflect
individuals with differing abilities, their loved ones, and roles in society.
- Attend community events sponsored by agencies which support individuals
- Talk with clients and their families about their personal experiences.
- Seek out simulation activities, such as learning differences
simulations, in which you are placed in situations that mirror experiences
(check your local dyslexia association, other non-profit agencies for
disability services, and understood.org).
Awareness is a fundamental step to increase understanding of the
privileges that exist within a culture that sorts individuals by ability, and
empowers us to advocate.
- Display books about individuals with disabilities in your office and
- Share children’s books about acceptance and understanding with your
clients and their families.
- Track current terminology to describe different conditions or
states-of-being (e.g., person-first language, “contemporary” versus “archaic”
- Adopt the new terms (times change and words change their meanings).
- Recognize that wording mistakes are common (wrong words, saying
something inappropriate, etc.) and that we have the power to correct ourselves.
- Focus on the positive intent of each communicative interaction.
- Politely and subtly re-state and re-frame another person’s use of
terminology, if they are not using appropriate terms, to model respectful
- Offer to lead a lesson or training on differing abilities with staff,
colleagues, and students.
- Understand the pervasive effects of societal collective forces for
conformity to a pre-established “normative” set of skills.
- Continue to question your own behavior and how you confront bias within
your own life.
As clinicians, our daily work is founded on accepting people and
partnering with them to address communication goals. We support them when we
advocate for a broader understanding of abilities, and we increase everyone’s