This Autism Awareness Month we sat down with Jessica Otter, mum of 2 and creator of @aussieautismfamily, an account with over 17k Instagram followers, 16k TikTok followers and over 26k Youtube subscribers. 

On her social channels, Jess details her experience raising her son Jacob who is autistic and has ADHD. She does this in an informative and, sometimes, humorous ways by using current trends to raise awareness and support.

How are you connected to the autism space?
My connection to autism is that my son, Jacob, is autistic/ADHD. We are also on a journey to discover my daughter, Jazz’s, Neurodiversity. I am also an Autism parent advocate online through social media, sharing the real and raw life of an autism family, whilst also providing resources and support for families with similar situations.

Is it different parenting an autistic child? How has your parenting strategy changed since the identification of autism?

Yes and no! As we are still in the process of discovering whether my daughter is autistic, I don’t believe I have experienced ‘typical parenting’ yet and can’t compare.
However I will say, from what I can tell, some elements can be very different. We often have to parent from a sensory perspective, meaning that there can often be a sensory processing reason as to why my child is acting a certain way. 

We also have to take into consideration my son’s different communication methods, as he is non speaking. I am also not a perfect parent (no one really is) but I think that every day I am learning how to improve my parenting alongside the help of therapists and online resources.

What are some misconceptions of people living with autism?
The biggest misconception we experience as a family is that because Jacob is mostly non speaking, people think he cannot communicate at all. Communication can come in so many different forms, and once you learn that Jacob uses his AAC device alongside hand gestures and prompts you learn how much you actually can communicate with him. Jacob can also hear and understand a lot of what people say, so people often say things about him in front of him, which is unfortunate that they can’t address him.

What are some of the ways your child likes to have fun?
Jacob loves a good sensory mess; shaving cream, soaps, bubbles etc. Jacob also loves anything to do with water, particularly going to the beach, having fun with our garden hose and splashing water in a pool. Jacob loves to be outside and has most of his fun in gardens, on beaches or in nature.

Why did you choose to start sharing your story on social media?
At first I started sharing on social media as a support for myself. We had recently moved 2 hours away from all our family and friends, and so we had limited support systems around us. Alongside Jacob’s autism diagnosis, I felt very isolated and didn’t know where to turn to in order to gain support. I started sharing online, and connected with so many families who were similar to mine. The conversations and support were what got me through that first confusing and overwhelming year post diagnosis.

My reason has transformed now that I am in a place of great acceptance and love of autism. I love sharing the ups and downs in order to be relatable and share with other families who may be in that overwhelmed and confused place, not knowing where to gain support. Social media is pretty incredible at connecting like-minded people, giving easy access to support and community. I also love being able to share resources, support and products which may better other people’s lives.

Do you believe Autism Awareness month is celebrated adequately? Why or why not? How can we celebrate it better?
I believe everyday people should be raising the awareness, acceptance, and inclusion surrounding autism. However, I don’t believe it’s great to have a month that is dedicated to education about autism and how we can all create an inclusive and adaptive society. I believe most people nowadays are aware of autism, it is more important that we now focus on the acceptance and inclusion of autism in society.

During this month (and every other month) we should be listening to neurodiverse people, sharing autistic work and businesses, highlighting the inequality and injustices for autistic people, and also celebrating the wonders of autism.

What is your vision for the autism space in 5-10 years?
EQUALITY!  Equal rights, access and inclusion in society. Inclusive and accommodative practices being the norm for workplaces, community gatherings, events and businesses. Autism being celebrated instead of considered a ‘disorder’.

This month we encourage you to follow accounts like @aussieautismfamily @yellowladybugs_autism, @amazeautism and @awn_network.

To learn more about how What Ability can support participants with autism as well as their families, please contact us at 1300 358 714 or email us at [email protected]