Black Joy

Black, autistic and proud | Black Joy – April 22, 2022

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April is more than just the Easter Bunny and showing out in your best of the best of your Sunday best.

It’s also Autism Acceptance Month, when we celebrate and embrace our autistic friends and fam. It was originally called “Autism Awareness Month” back in the day, but advocates sought to change the lingo to promote a more neurodiverse world – one where we can accept everyone’s differences and incorporate it into our daily world.

As a journalist, I recognize the power of words. “Awareness” says, “I know about Autism Spectrum Disorder, the neurological condition affecting how a person communicates, perceives and interacts with their world.”

Acceptance sounds more like a hug  ̶  a welcoming of differences to create inclusive work and social environments. Not just acknowledging those differences.

Acceptance is amplifying the voices of #BlackAutistic people whose experiences are drowned out in predominantly white spaces. It also means dispelling stereotypes and welcoming autistic behaviors in our social circles so that no autistic person has to endure anxiety or depression because they are “masking,” or hiding, their autism.

So we are giving the floor to a parent who is becoming an advocate for her autistic toddler. Please share the Black autistic pride by forwarding this newsletter to your inner circle.

̶  Starr

Loving ya’ whole self

Louisiana mom Dr. Rachel Francis is sharing all the autistic black boy joy on social media and through encouraging literature.

Through her web series called “Moments with me, Reese”, her followers see the world through the eyes of her 4-year-old autistic son, Reese, on Instagram and Facebook. In the videos, you can see how Rachel, her husband and even her 16–month-old daughter, Ryleigh, all play a role in helping Reese work with his autism instead of trying to mask it. Although autistic kids can be over stimulated by the sights and sounds of their environments, Reese was able to enjoy fireworks with the aid of noise cancelling headphones. To prepare for pre-kindergarten, Reese clapped his hands to remember the months of the year. Reese’s clapping was a form of “stimming,” repetitive behaviors  ̶  like hand flapping or spinning  ̶ autistic people use to regulate emotions, such as fear or excitement. Autism advocates believe parents shouldn’t attempt to stop their children from stimming unless it is hurting themselves or others. Rachel didn’t discourage Reese’s clapping because she doesn’t want him to become less of himself in order to live and learn.

“I want Reese to love his whole self as he gets older  ̶  everything about himself,” Rachel said. “I want other kids to know that special needs kids are still, at heart, kids. They may play a little differently than you or learn differently than you, but they still will (play and learn) in their own way.”

Reese was diagnosed with nonverbal autism in January 2021. He was evaluated after his speech therapist spotted some autistic traits in Reese which include:

  • Not responding to his name
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Engaging in stimming behavior
  • Prefering to play alone

Rachel didn’t process the diagnoses well at first. She noticed her son’s very mild manner. His vocabulary was very limited. He would say “mama” and the alphabet song, but that was it. Rachel wanted to get Reese tested sooner, but she was either on mandatory bedrest due to her pregnancy with her daughter or going in and out of the hospital due to postpartum complications. She was still recovering from high blood pressure and a C section by the time she received the news of her son’s autism.

“I had a pity party for myself, blamed myself, went through the range of emotions,” Rachel said. “And then I got up and said, ‘Let’s go to work and get him services. It’s not about me. It’s about him.’”

Rachel has a background in chemistry, so she put her researching skills to good use. She found herself in this rabbit hole of long, drawn out articles that lacked experiences about Black autistic people. While she did find services for her son, she could see how parents of autistic children could get lost in all medical jargon. This pushed her Rachel to create her own solution.

Along with creating social media content around autism acceptance, Rachel also got her pen ready and wrote a picture book in Reese’s honor called “See Me Through My ABCs.” Like the videos, the book follows Reese’s day-to-day life, but it also gives parents some insight on how Reese’s family researched and found different activities for him. Rachel wrote the book as not only a guide for parents of autistic kids, but also to give them words of encouragement as they adapt to their new normal.

“I didn’t see that many resources or information that looked like me or my child,” Rachel said. “I wanted other African American people to see us and our journey, so they know that we are not alone.”

Rachel said parents of autistic children usually get lost in weeds about whether they are doing enough for their child. She hopes her web series and book will give them the encouragement they need to practice patience for their children and give grace to themselves. This will give them to space to accept their autistic children’s uniqueness instead of allowing the stereotypes of autism define their lives.

For Reese, that looks like celebrating his growing vocabulary and personality. Although he was diagnosed as nonverbal, he can tell you Rachel’s phone number, can count to 100 and will tell you his age. There is a persistent stereotype that autistic people lack emotion and empathy. But Reese understands his mom’s goofy manner and will laugh along with her. While autism affects how a person interacts with others, Rachel says her favorite moments of joy is watching Reese and Ryleigh’s blossoming relationship. While Reese is more of a loner, Ryleigh has no problems getting in people’s space. Instead of pushing his baby sister away, Reese will be patient with her and hug her. As Ryleigh babbles new words, her brother repeats after her, thus expanding his vocabulary.

Autism isn’t a linear spectrum that ranges from “low functioning” to “high functioning.” It’s more circular, which shows how autistic people can function well in some areas in their lives, but not so much in others. No two autistic people are alike. Rachel said parents of autistic children should applaud their child’s gifts, instead of focusing on what they lack.

“Autism does not look the same in every child. You can put two autistic children side by side and they will present differently,” she said. “Your child has abilities. Don’t focus on their disability. Focus on their abilities. I try not to use the word disabilities because I find that it’s a negative connotation. Everyone is able to do things differently.”

#AutisticBlackPride

Who’s out there celebrating the beauty of neurodiversity? We created this round up for y’all so you can support and follow those who are creating a better world for the autism community.

Kyla Smith: If you’re looking for a voice to speak up for you or help you find your own voice as an autistic person, North Carolina native Kayla Smith is your person. A Black, bisexual autistic activist, she created the hashtag #AutisticBlackPride, to amplify the intersectionality of the neurodivergent community. Kayla spills the tea on ableism and racism on TikTok and during her appearances on different podcasts. She’s an open book when it comes to chatting about her daily life as a Black autistic woman.

Mark Wilson: Spread the swag of autistic acceptance with Autistic Gang Apparel by Autistic Kreations, an Atlanta-based clothing line. Mark created this collection of sweatsuits, hoodies, T shirts and more to celebrate the uniqueness of his autistic son. Mark wanted to show his son that he can set trends, too. You also find this beautiful and supportive family on TikTok and Instagram.

Tracey Hawkins: Early intervention is a key when it comes to an autistic child’s development. Tracey and her husband, Zack, leaped into action when two of their three sons were diagnosed with autism. The North Carolina family found experienced some issues when the middle son, James, started Pre-Kindergarten. Change can trigger overstimulation in an autistic person, which can lead to tantrums that made classroom life difficult for James and his teachers. With no solutions in sight, Tracey used her mom-preneur skills to create her own. She created the THRIVE app, which helps autistic children to develop the tools they need for their lives. The app features a virtual schedule, which uses images to help autistic children stay on top of their routine, and different self-regulation exercises a child can practice so they can learn to calm themselves when overstimulated. Parents, teachers and caregivers can access the free app online and download it on a child’s Apple Watch so they can learn how to use these aids independently.

Hope y’all have a good weekend by spreading the Black Joy! See ya’ Friday!

The Reckon Report.
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