Guest Blog

Originally published 4/6/2022 here

by Annie Korp

For April’s Autism Acceptance Month, Drexel News Blog is highlighting experts and projects from Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. Research from the Autism Institute is built around a public health science approach to understanding and addressing the challenges of autism spectrum disorders by discovering, developing and sharing population-level and community-based outcomes.

Citing a “profound disconnect between the worlds of research and policy,” the Autism Institute has started the Policy Impact Project to flip this paradigm and use research to propel systems-level policy solutions that improve the lives of autistic people and those with other development disabilities.

In mid-April, the Policy Impact Project will host “Policy Power Lunch: Avoiding Ableism in Research and Policy.” The webinar exemplifies the Policy Impact Project team’s desire to have activities focused on research dissemination, as well as linking research to policy.

They have also launched a blog, “Beyond the Abstract,” where they write about issues that make their work singular, important and challenging. They will unpack public policy and shine a light on questions that matter to those they serve.

This initiative is led by Lindsay Shea, DrPH, director of the Policy and Analytics Center; Anne Roux, director of Policy Impact in the Life Course Outcomes Research program; Kaitlin Koffer Miller, director of Policy Impact, Policy and Analytics Center; and Kyle Chvasta, project coordinator, Policy Impact Project.

“We have seen research make the rounds on Twitter, conversations started, and we have also made real life connections via social media – expanding our network and partners,” said Koffer Miller on the immediate effects of the Policy Impact Project. “We hope to launch more dissemination channels, like LinkedIn, and facilitate additional opportunities to educate researchers on accessible dissemination strategies that link their research to the policy makers and stakeholders driving the conversations and advocating for change in the lives of autistic people and their families.”

Chvasta, Koffer Miller and Roux also shared the importance of Autism Acceptance Month.

“As an autistic self-advocate, Autism Acceptance Month accomplishes a few things: It hopefully centers autistic people in conversations around research and policy planning and implementation and reminds non-autistic people that actually autistic people are best situated to discuss our needs,” said Chvasta. “It is also important because it brings awareness to our vast and varied experiences. I was diagnosed later in life, and often think about what my life would have looked like if school administrators had an expanded diagnostic toolbox. Furthermore, no one autistic person’s journey is exactly the same as another. There are commonalities, but we are not a monolith.”

Koffer Miller echoed the importance of having the voices of autistic individuals front and center in educating the public.

“Autism Awareness, and Acceptance, Month is a critical month. It’s a time to bring to light the experiences, successes and continued barriers that autistic individuals have across the lifespan and across the spectrum,” added Koffer Miller. “Researchers need to be continually educated about this and not just by the literature, but by autistic individuals. Including autistic voices in our work is a paramount priority for the Policy Impact Project and I look forward to our work in April and beyond.”

Roux says that society needs to move beyond awareness to cultivate a more inclusive world for everyone to thrive.

“Our ‘National Autism Indicators Reports’ often begins with a statement that says, ‘We envision a future where autistic people are valued as contributing members of our communities who have roles to play and dreams to pursue.’ We point this out because, too often, autistic people do not feel accepted or valued within the broader community,” said Roux. “Autism Acceptance month should honor the humanity and individuality of every single person who feels overlooked or underappreciated as a neurodivergent individual. We must continue to push our communities beyond passive awareness and toward fully and actively including and accepting autistic people. Our job as a society should be to provide supports, services, and policies – plus opportunities and nurturing environments – to enable autistic people (alongside others) to live life as they desire.”

 

Annie Korp  is the news manager who covers business, science and nursing. Her beat also includes the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services Center and the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. She graduated from La Salle University and has lived in Philadelphia for nearly a decade. When not writing about Drexel, she enjoys completing crossword puzzles in pen and watching Philly sports. Contact Annie at amk522@drexel.edu or 215-571-4244.