Yampa Valley Autism: Moving from awareness to inclusion | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley Autism: Moving from awareness to inclusion

Kimberly Walker
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
The Yampa Valley Singers group has welcomed and included one of Yampa Valley Autism’s students. She participates with the support of YVA’s Special Activities Support program.
Yampa Valley Autism/Courtesy photo

Diversity. Equity. Inclusion.

We hear these words every day. So much that they seem to wash over us sometimes. Diversity and equity at the community level can feel like big concepts over which we have little control.

But inclusion is personal.

It is a choice you make every day to embrace people — all people — and make them a part of your world. You choose to accept differences and recognize that all people have value, all people can contribute.  

As Autism Acceptance Month comes to a close, take a moment to assess how you will move forward from awareness to acceptance to inclusion of the neurodiverse people in our community.

To do this you may first need a better understanding of who makes up the neurodivergent community. As a starting point, not all neurodiverse people are autistic. Autism is a well-known form of neurodiversity and tends to drive the conversation, but it is only one segment of the community.

The hallmark of neurodiversity is a brain that functions, learns and processes information differently than society expects. Currently, over 50% of Yampa Valley Autism’s program participants face challenges stemming from forms of neurodiversity other than autism.

Including and fostering acceptance of our neurodivergent community members, including those on the autism spectrum, may require some patience and understanding, but it does not look so different from any other friendship building strategy.

Here are some tips we can all incorporate:

  • As you would with anyone, get to know the person by learning about their interests and what they are good at or enjoy. Help them to incorporate their strengths and interests into as much of what they do as possible.
  • Provide support to help build or expand their strengths and interests. Understanding a person’s unique potential can help both the individual and those around them to flourish. 
  • Learn what areas are more difficult for that person. These are not necessarily areas to be completely avoided. They can be opportunities for growth with the support of those around them. Share skills to help them live their best life as independently as possible.
  • Invite and include our neurodiverse friends. They may decline to attend or play but it is always nice to be asked. Also understand that our neurodivergent friends may want to play differently, but being included is the main part. 

For employers looking to take the next step toward inclusion of neurodivergent people in their workplace, YVA can offer support and training for you and your staff. While the autistic community has an average unemployment rate of between 75-85%, with the proper supports, folks with autism and other developmental disabilities make loyal and dependable employees when given an opportunity.

Neurodiversity can add color to our world if we take the time to learn about and include neurodivergent people in our life. WE just need to make that choice.

Kimberly Walker is the Development Director for Yampa Valley Autism. Community tips provided by YVA Board Certified Behavior Analyst Jessica Charpentier. Monthly tips are available in the YVA newsletter. Go to YampaValleyAutism.org to sign up and learn more.

Yampa Valley Autism’s Mission

Yampa Valley Autism Program provides resources and direct services to individuals and families living with autism or other disorders to cultivate their abilities and maximize quality of life.

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