In this case, and I believe in many others, my friend’s awareness brought acceptance for Sean’s unfamiliar and what she thought was unexpected behavior. Because April is autism awareness month, I have been thinking a lot about how it’s not only important to build awareness, but also acceptance. Acceptance for those who may not learn, think, engage, or act in ways that feel familiar or are considered the norm. In today’s society many people do not fit the norm, and if we raise awareness in a mindful way, it can breed acceptance.
If we think about mindfulness as paying attention in the moment, on purpose, without judgment, we are ultimately talking about awareness (paying attention) and acceptance (without judgment). Being mindful about various people and differences, we can gain information and increased consciousness. Often when we are not familiar with something, it makes us feel uncomfortable or even threatened. If we can be more attentive to these thoughts and feelings, we can work on changing them and embrace what seems unfamiliar, thus making it more familiar.
This takes work but is well worth it for ourselves and those who may look to us as role models: our children, students, employees, and co-workers. When gathering information and being curious as we do with all people we meet, try to focus on the ways that a person who seems very different is actually similar to you and on that person’s positive traits. Remind yourself how it feels to be left out, misunderstood, or unable to fit in. Step into the other person’s shoes with compassion. You might even join or build a community or gather information from an organization or online resource that provides knowledge, awareness, and support. When communities collaborate, walls can be broken down which can be the first step towards non-judgmental acceptance.
I encourage you to practice mindful awareness and acceptance today, this month, and every day. If you are a parent, teach your child about how other people might play, learn, or think differently than he/she does, and provide your child with a mindset that might spark inclusivity toward all of his/her classmates/peers. If you are an employer, think about the communication styles of your employees, and realize that just because one person might not engage in small talk or might talk too much and not fit in socially doesn’t mean that he/she is not a good fit for the job. Provide that employee with the needed feedback and tools, and help him/her focus on his/her strengths and the part of the job that he/she is doing well. If you are a teacher, be sure to collaborate and consult with the special education teachers, go to conferences, and become aware of the various ways that kids learn and engage with other people and the world. One size does not fit all. Focus on building awareness and using that awareness as a bridge to greater acceptance!