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Autism: what’s more important equality or equity?

Read time: 6 minutes

Equality and equity are words that are often understood as being synonymous as they both have the implication of fairness, however, the two meanings are actually very different. Equality means to have the same opportunities as everyone else. Equity speaks to ensuring that everyone has the opportunities they need to be successful.

There have been many political movements that have espoused equal rights: women’s groups, minority groups, autism advocacy groups and other disability rights groups.

With equality, it is assumed that everyone has the same starting point and should be treated in exactly the same way. While with equity, the belief is that not all people start at the same point and for that reason, each person should receive (based on their distinct abilities) what they need to be successful. In understanding the difference between the two, we can conclude  that fairness does not mean equality

Modifications and Accommodations for Autism

While the idea behind equality is to treat everyone “fairly” and “equally”, it has sadly missed the mark when looking at fairness around Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Assuming that everyone is equal and is starting from the same place (which we know is not true, especially in autism) can actually create unintentional barriers. For instance, modifications are necessary for those with autism to be successful in their daily routines.

Making practical changes allows the starting point to truly become one of fairness. Simply put, modifications and adjustments are how we can promote fairness and ensure that all people are provided with the tools they need to achieve success. 

An example of these modifications put into action is an autism framework is that of a child who has sensory concerns or challenging behaviour and has trouble sitting in a circle on the floor with the rest of the class.  Pressuring the child to join on the floor may create resistance or even a meltdown which affects not only the autistic child but the class as a whole. A small concession that a teacher may make is to allow the child to sit on a chair in the circle to help with engagement and integration.

Yes, this may seem to some degree “unfair” to the other children or “special treatment”, however with this minor adjustment being made to accommodate a child that has additional needs, the teacher has effectively created a more positive and successful learning environment not only for the autistic child but for the entire class as well.

We cannot and must not expect every child to fit into one box and hope that success will be the same across the board. We have to realize that accommodations and flexibility provided by parents, professionals and autism caregivers are not only kind but are actually essential to achieving true equity. 

Autism ABA Therapy Lindsey Malc Side by Side Therapy Equality vs Equity Cartoon of boys trying to see over a fence.
Equality vs equity cartoon showing the practical difference between the two terms.

As these adjustments are necessary, we need to position them as being so. Instead of the modification being looked at as unfair, it rather should be seen as levelling the playing field to ensure fairness. If we don’t make a big deal about these accommodations than others (classmates, siblings etc.) won’t either. We need to keep in mind that it’s not only those with autism that are different, but we are also all different in our own way and therefore have different capabilities and needs.

In focussing too much on equality and  fairness, we end up overlooking the wonderfulness of difference. Instead, we need to look at each person individually to ensure equity and flexibility are at the forefront. Then and only then we can indeed provide fairness in its truest form.  

To further exemplify, here in Ontario, Canada all of the changes that are being proposed and made regarding the Ontario Autism Program’s funding is a prime example of the misunderstanding surrounding equality and equity.  The province seems to be under the impression that allocating the same amount of funds for children who fall within provincially designated categories (age, etc). will provide equality across the board.  However, where the mistake lies is that autism does not affect each person in the same ways.

Therefore, funding and resources should not be allocated based on provincially set rigid categories such as age, and should instead be provided and distributed based on individual need. As autism falls on a spectrum from mild to severe, one child who is nonverbal may require, for example, far more Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Therapy or Speech Therapy, than a verbal autistic child. This example is just one of many reasons why “equality” in this case will just not work.    

Below is a helpful example of a lesson that can be played with your children to help explain this confusing topic:  

The One Size Fits All Band-Aid Lesson – Ask the children to share their most serious injury: some may say a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder or a cut on the forehead. Once the injuries have been acknowledged, explain to them that your solution to heal them is to provide them each with a band-aid. 

This solution will most likely raise some confusion to the children, as how is a band-aid supposed to fix a broken arm or a dislocated shoulder? This unhelpful solution shows that there is not one solution to all situations and that each situation needs to be addressed in it’s own way. Even though using the same solution (the band-aid) may in theory seem fair, how can this “equal” method of treating three different injuries be acceptable? All that is accomplished is that only a small number of people actually get the help they need while the rest of the group suffers. 

Once again, it is important to remember that there is a difference between equality and equity. Fairness can only truly be gained with compromises and modifications which ensure that all people are indeed given the tools they need to be successful.  Would you not agree to a person with bad eyesight getting glasses or a non-english speaker having a translator at the hospital? It is a similar situation when making adjustments for autistic children and others with exceptionalities.

We know that not all people are born the same, and in keeping this in mind, we need to continue to work towards levelling the playing field to ensure actual fairness is received. 

Autism: How to have great transitions – Part 1

Read time: 4 minutes


This post is quite long, so it will be divided into two parts for your reading pleasure!

Toddler with autism smiling looking directly at the camera.

Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.

Being able to effectively transition between activities in our daily routines is imperative to leading a successful life: at home, school or at a job. Transitions include any change, big or small, such as a change of activity (especially from a fun one to a less enjoyable one), environment or teacher.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) influences the way children process and interact within their environment and presents communication challenges, sensory issues and deficits in social skills.  All these challenges have an impact on the child’s ability to smoothly make transitions. It can be difficult for autism spectrum disorder children to shift attention or change from the comfort of their routine. These difficulties and stressors can lead a child to experience agitation, sadness or anger.  

All of these concerns need to be considered and addressed in order to help your autism spectrum disorder child thrive. The first step in dealing with transitions is dealing with the associated worry around transitions. Understanding how your child’s autism spectrum disorder is impacting their transitional issues, sensory sensitivities and concerns combined with creating a plan will better help your child to manage their worry connected to transitions.

Being prepared and well equipped to assist your child with autism before, during and following transitions is the absolute greatest support you can provide them. 

When strategies are used to help autism spectrum disorder children with transitions you can expect: a reduction in transition times; behaviours will improve during transitions; there will be less need for adult reminders and participation in school and community excursions will become easier.

Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
Sometimes, creating a plan for your autistic child can feel like you’re trying to solve a calculus equation.

In the preparation of your plan, it is important to understand what transitional issues you are dealing with, including your child’s sensory needs.  By observing your child for 3 – 5 days and jotting down each time your child gets frustrated or angered you will have a better understanding of what is going on. This review should include identifying the patterns and triggers that led up to the problems transitioning.

For instance, does your child not like being interrupted to move onto the next activity if they are still working on the present one?  Do line-ups and busy hallways at school make it difficult for your child? Is there sensory stimulation such as bright lights or cold temperatures that may impact them and therefore affect the transition? Once you have identified the transitional issues then you can move towards creating a plan to account for these barriers. 

Transitional strategies are methods that can help autistic individuals manage during times of change or disruption in activities, routines or situations. As challenges can exist at any point during the transition, it is helpful to go over the techniques before, during and after a transition. This preparation strategy can (and probably should) be explained verbally and/or visually with the hopes of increasing predictability and maintaining consistency in their routine. 

Your child must realize that transitions are not punishments and should therefore not be thought of as such. Instead, your child should understand that they are required throughout the day in order to follow the daily schedule. Having the parent, caregiver or teacher show excitement in moving through transitions may help in easing your child’s worry and the challenging behaviour they exhibit. With your enthusiasm alongside your well thought out plan and tons of praise and encouragement, in time, you will see changes that are heading in the right direction. 

11 Tips to Help Those with Autism Transition

Here are 11 useful tips and strategies to use in the development of your plan; they are the stepping stones to helping ease your autism spectrum disorder child’s transitions:

Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
  1. Prepare & Talk About Transitions – To help in ensuring a smooth transition, it is useful to plan out and discuss the plan with your child and support them before, during and after the transition. It is easier to deal with and manage your behaviour when you know what to expect. For instance, if you know you only have an hour at the zoo, then you should discuss this with your child prior to arriving. Knowledge is power and if your child knows what to expect the element of surprise will be removed and this will likely help with the transition. 
Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
  1. Time Warnings – Providing time warnings prior to a transition is quite helpful.  This allows the child to be aware that a transition is coming up shortly and can then better prepare themselves. Therefore, half an hour before the change of an event you can start to give 30, 15, and 5-minute warnings. As these verbal warnings may be too abstract for some autism spectrum disorder children, especially when time-telling is not yet learned, it is suggested to use a concrete tool such as a clock or a timer that can visually help to alert your child of the upcoming transition.  This visual tool can be reassuring during an unenjoyable activity as it shows the child that there is an end in sight. 
Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
  1. Countdowns – To go alongside the time warning strategy, it is also helpful to give final countdown notice.  So, instead of expecting your child to move right into the next transition once the final 5 minutes have finished, giving them a 10-second further countdown will continue to help with the transition.  Even though you may have provided the time warning, which may seem enough, the transition may still seem sudden to a child with difficulty transitioning. Adding in the additional and final 10-second countdown will certainly make your expectations clear. If visual tools are more effective then you can show your child a visual that has a countdown from 10-1. As you’re counting down you remove the numbers until your visual is empty and your child knows that the transition is imminent. This final countdown method can also be useful when doing unfavourable tasks such as cutting nails, bathing or brushing teeth as the child will know the end is near which helps with their coping.
Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
Picture from
Pocket of Preschool
  1. Create Visual Schedules – A visual schedule is a very useful tool when managing transitions. The schedule helps to reinforce the predictability that your child requires alongside outlining the events in a way that your child can review throughout the day. As autistic children often thrive with routine and consistency this visual method helps them see things in a format that they can clearly understand and remember especially if out of the ordinary things are going to happen. Being able to understand what the schedule holds can create opportunities for the empowerment of your child as they may be able to move through the transition on their own without coaching or reminding. 
Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.
  1. Offer Options – Just like adults, children like choices. Having options gives them a feeling of empowerment and control. Therefore, offering two realistic choices allows your child to feel part of the decision.  For instance, when getting ready to leave the park you can ask would your child prefer to play on the slide or the swings in their last 5 minutes at the park. Achoice can be as simple as asking would they rather skip or walk to the washroom.  It is surprising how willing children are to participate when choices are offered.

Come back next week to read the second part!

Covid-19 Update

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