Another year around the sun and here we are waiting for spring to arrive. On the brink of World Autism Awareness Day (April 2), I reflect on writing about ACCEPTANCE in 2016. I wrote about standing in my fire, accepting my life and my lessons; Ashton being the biggest lesson to date. While brainstorming for what to write about in 2017, I wondered if ACCEPTANCE isn’t enough? Acceptance implies tolerance…and is that really all we are doing – tolerating what life throws in our direction? See, I don’t want my son or the other 1-66 children on the autism spectrum to merely be tolerated because of their differences. While this may be idealistic, I feel we need to change the perception of autism. It’s about our future, our children, and not making the mistake of trying to shape them to fit the world, but rather to shape the world to embrace them as a meaningful part of society.

I have found the most difficult aspects of raising a child with autism are in dealing with society at large. Always feeling on guard to the looks, comments, and opinions of others who are often not educated about what autism is and what it is not. Too often those of us with children who react differently in social settings choose to seclude ourselves and our children in fear of embarrassment and the disturbance of others. Although we know most will be tolerant, as a parent it’s easier to not expose the raw feelings attached to failed attempts of normal activities. Haircuts, doctors offices, waiting in Santa lines, amusement parks, movies, and even restaurants are OFF LIMITS for Ashton. Meltdowns and self-injurious behaviors become the expected standard during these seemingly “normal” outings.

Why do children have this reaction? It’s simple…they are being assaulted by their world. Children with autism and other related disorders deal with sensory processing disorder (SPD). Sensory processing disorder is what happens when what a person senses (i.e. sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) is not accurately processed by the brain in order to elicit the proper response.

This year, as I realized that acceptance wasn’t enough, I decided I wanted to be an activist. Nothing is more comforting than going to an autism only event. You can feel the sigh of relief from every parent there as they look around and know their child is welcome. Our kids can have a tantrum, take off articles of clothing, yell at everyone, or stim, and no one even bats an eye. If only life were the same when we left those events.

Using my profession and GLOWstudios as my platform to initiate action, I am thrilled to announce the beginning of ‘Sensory Sundays’ – a day at the studio dedicated to providing haircuts to those with sensory needs in a S.A.F.E. (Supporting Autism Friendly Environments) space. From 10am to noon on the first Sunday of every month, GLOWstudios will open its doors and reserve the entire space for families to feel comfortable bringing their children with autism in for a haircut.

My hope is to inspire others to change the perception of people with autism and create compassion. It’s not about shying away or hiding out in fear. It’s taking the first step to create regular safe spaces, and I hope it’s just the first step.