April is Autism Acceptance Month, an opportunity to spread awareness, promote acceptance and ignite change. For Rai Nihei, proud mother of Clark and a member of NIU’s Autism Caregiver group, it’s also an opportunity to address a number of misconceptions that people may have about autism.
“Autism is not uncommon and it’s not an illness to be cured,” Nihei said “It’s useful to encourage acceptance of neurodiversity, and to understand that how people perceive and interact with the world can be different without being wrong.”
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to a 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
“A person with autism may have challenges with things that come easily to you, but they may also be able to outshine you in other things,” Nihei said. “They spend a great deal of time and effort trying to survive and thrive in a world catered to the neuro-typical, so it isn’t out of line for them to expect others to accept them where they are.”
Nihei has seen firsthand some of the challenges that her son faces, and said it’s important to remember that being different can also mean amazing.
“Because a person has autism, that does not make them stupid or less human; it doesn’t mean they don’t feel and learn and grow,” Nihei said. “It isn’t something an individual should be embarrassed by or a parent should be ashamed of. It’s different but also amazing.”