Most of you will be aware that my husband and I are the parents of a child on the autism spectrum (ASD). Our son was diagnosed with ASD at the age of 3. He is now 12, and in the years that have passed since his diagnosis, he has taught me more about life than any book, university degree or professional development course.

One major lesson that both my husband and I have had to learn is where our responsibility to prepare our child for inclusion within his community meets the responsibility of the community to ensure that he has equal access to all facets his local area.

The line in the sand between family and community can be difficult to navigate, particularly for parents who themselves don’t feel overly confident in accessing facets of their local community. Another element of difficult lies with the fact that we can educate our son on safety aspects such as road safety but there are elements to his behaviour that we will never be able to change, nor would we ever want to. These elements of his behaviour are part of his personality and define his individuality. They don’t need to be reduced or eliminated but rather they need to be accepted and understood.

These two words, acceptance and understanding, are at the crux of where a family’s responsibility to prepare their child for community inclusion meets the community’s responsibility to offer equal access to the communal space in towns and cities. We need to begin to shift our thinking away from how we can change people to fit into our community settings and focus more on how we can understand individual’s needs and accept their differences within that space.

For our son, it means that people within our local community are accepting of his endless desire to high 5 people, cross pedestrian crossings multiple times and dance in front of mirrors. This may not be what other 12-year-olds are doing, but this is how he wants to access and participate in his local community. That is totally fine by me. What are your thoughts?

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