Autism awareness and acceptance: See how far we’ve come

Since April is now known as Autism Acceptance Month, a change from Autism Awareness Month a few years ago, we thought this year we’d explore the history of autism awareness in the U.S., how it has evolved, and why we celebrate autism acceptance today.

Knowing where we come from is always a good way to ensure we’re on the right path and moving in the right direction. And the good news is, we are!

So, let’s look at some milestones along our journey to Autism Acceptance Month.


Starting in the 1800s

Even though the word and the diagnosis of autism didn’t exist in the 19th century, researchers claim autism awareness can be traced backed to before the Civil War. Their analysis, spotlighted in the Smithsonian Magazine, explains how a doctor’s work surveying “intellectually impaired citizens” as part of a state-funded project suggests the diagnosis for many of those citizens “appear to constitute the earliest known collection of systematically observed people with probable autism in the United States.”


The magazine article states that the doctor’s final report consisted of 45 pages of tabulated data collected from observing 547 people. The data included a wide range of measurements as well as intellectual and verbal capacities, revealing many of the common symptoms of autism we know today, like below average use of language and echolalia (repeating words and phrases), among others.


Skipping ahead to the 20th century

According to this article, the first historical appearance of the word autism was made in 1911 by the psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler. He used the word to describe a set of symptoms associated with schizophrenia that had to do with extreme social withdraw.

But it wasn’t until the late 1930s until we see the word autism first appear in medical literature. It took several more years and a new decade before autism was first characterized as a distinct condition and conceptualized within the field of childhood psychosis or schizophrenia.


Two of the most influential names from that period were Dr. Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger. Kanner characterized autism as a social and emotional disorder, while Asperger described autism as a disorder of normal intelligence children who have difficulties with social and communication skills. Their combined contributions in the study of autism helped to get autism classified as a disorder separate from schizophrenia in 1980.

It wasn’t until 2013 when the American Psychiatric Association combined all subcategories of autism and related conditions into one unified category, thus creating the idea of being on the autism spectrum.


Along comes the Autism Society

In 1965, the Autism Society was founded, growing from a handful of parents into a leading source of information, research, reference, and support on the autism experience. It is said to be the oldest and largest grassroots autism organization, that helps over half a million people in the U.S. every year through advocacy, education, support, and services.

Seven years on, they organized in 1972 what they hoped would become an annual event, the National Autistic Children’s Week. It was to be an awareness campaign taking place every April with the goal of bringing to light the fact that autism was the fastest-growing developmental disability in the world.

That campaign grew and would eventually become Autism Awareness Month here in the U.S. But awareness was growing internationally as well. In 2007, April 2nd was designated by a United Nations resolution to be World Autism Awareness Day.

Today, we have all kinds of symbols that keep autism awareness top of mind, like blue lights, all the colors of the rainbow which signifies the diverse experiences within the autism community, and the infinity symbol representing the infinite potential of people with autism. And we can’t forget the puzzle ribbon. It’s been around since 1999!


Hello Autism Acceptance Month

Almost 50 years since the creation of National Autistic Children’s Week, the Autism Society in cooperation with other organizations changed Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month. As reported by NPR, the change represented a long-held belief by autism advocates, specifically within the neurodiversity movement, that the annual event should be about helping people with autism lead more fulfilling lives rather than treating the condition like an illness.

The team here at The Behavior Exchange couldn’t agree more! We’d add that autism awareness remains a critical first step. To ensure all children with autism can experience more fulfilling lives, their parents first need to be aware of autism and the signs to look for in their kiddos.

Early interventions for autism, like the gold standard of ABA therapy, have proven to result in better and longer-lasting outcomes for children with autism. The earlier they’re diagnosed, the earlier they can get treatment when it counts the most.

Put your child with autism on the path to a more fulfilling life. Get started today and make this April Autism Action Month!





Ashvina attended University of Bombay and graduated with a Bachelors of Commerce. She got her Montessori Diploma in 1985 and taught ever since. Ashvina came to TBE in January of 2016 as Admin Assistant. During the years she got the opportunity to learn and work in different departments such as HR, Finance, Office Manager and Executive Assistant. Last summer TBE bought billing in house and her current focus area is Revenue Cycle Management. She is detail oriented and enjoys working with people. Ashvina volunteers to deliver meals to seniors and local shelters on the weekend. She loves to spend time with her family and grandkids. Ashvina loves her job because she enjoys hearing different points of view, and she feels her contributions help fuel the direction of our company.

Working with children comes naturally to Angela. Her mom was a special education teacher for 30 years and often had Angela join her for Take Your Child to Work Day. And in high school, Angela spent every summer as the nanny for a little boy with an autism spectrum disorder. It was this experience where her passion for working with children with autism started to blossom.

From there, she went on to graduate from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences. She learned about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in a non-normative development class and from that moment knew that ABA would be her life’s work.

Angela moved to the DFW area shortly after and began working at The Behavior Exchange as a therapist. She worked on her Master’s in Behavior Analysis at the same time. A year after graduating, she earned certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Now, as a Clinical Director at The Behavior Exchange, she brings a life-long passion to her work, holding a special place in her heart for children with limited language skills and working closely with families to develop healthy sleep habits.

Danielle’s passion for working with families is deeply personal and from the heart. Her younger brother has an autism spectrum disorder, and through their journey as a family, she found her purpose in life as an advocate for individuals with special needs.

After graduating from the University of North Texas with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, Danielle began volunteering at The Behavior Exchange. She saw passionate therapists, meaningful change for clients, and families with hope for the future. After a summer of volunteering, she officially joined the team as Director of Admissions and found her home with The Behavior Exchange family.

With her extensive experience working as a client advocate with insurance providers, Danielle perseveres to help individuals of all ages and abilities receive the services they need to reach their full potential. She feels truly honored by each and every family who entrusts The Behavior Exchange to be part of their journey and is committed to the organization’s core values, mission, and goal of being a beacon of hope for the community.

Adam has always had a passion for helping individuals of all ages thrive and reach their full potential. He’s also an enthusiastic musician, songwriter, leader, and devoted family man, who has been helping children and team members grow with The Behavior Exchange since 2010.

Prior to joining the team at The Behavior Exchange, Adam was a mortgage loan consultant and grad student, pursuing his master’s degree in Education at the University of North Texas. He graduated in 2013 and also earned a graduate academic certificate in Autism Intervention. The following year, after years as a Behavior Therapist and seeing first-hand the power of ABA and the meaningful impact it can have on children and their families, Adam became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. He then commenced from the Stagen Leadership Academy after completing the Integral Leadership Program (ILP), a 52-week practice-based program designed to develop executives serious about transforming themselves, their teams, and their organizations.

Adam is truly grateful to be a part of a dynamic, inspiring and compassionate team, and he’s dedicated to bettering the lives of all children and their families through the delivery of the highest quality of ABA services, while supporting the amazing team at The Behavior Exchange.

Soraya is from South Africa and moved to Texas in 1996. She graduated from The University of Texas and pursued a career, at that time, in Education. Soraya taught at a Montessori school for a few years and then took on a leadership role.

During her time in the education system, Soraya realized her passion was to assist children with special needs. So she joined The Behavior Exchange as a therapist, transitioned into a supervisory role in 2017, and a year and a half later, was promoted to Clinical Operations Manager.

She quickly learned the ins and outs of ABA operations and scheduling and successfully collaborates across departments to ensure The Behavior Exchange continues to provide quality services to clients and their families. She’s thankful to be part of such an amazing organization and excited to see what the future holds.

You could say Walter’s career started when he spent hours as a young child drawing superheroes and coloring maps. This passion, along with extraordinary swimming skills, landed him a full swimming scholarship at Texas Christian University, where he graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Graphics.

During the next 13 years, his design and art direction skills, conceptual-thinking abilities, and marketing-savvy know-how were honed at a few prestigious advertising and marketing agencies around the Dallas area. In the mid 2000s, he helped his wife Tammy Cline-Soza (founder and CEO of The Behavior Exchange) create a unique and concise brand for her new business. From logos and websites to uniforms, brand voice and visuals, Walter has been the main creative force for all things The Behavior Exchange.

Aside from giving birth to The Behavior Exchange brand, Walter is helping Tammy raise two amazing, beautiful children, River and Sierra. In his spare time (the two minutes he’s got per week), you can find Walter illustrating iconic landmarks of Dallas and Texas or looking around for this next open-water swim. Once he gets back in shape.

After 20 years of building The Behavior Exchange, literally from the ground up,
Tammy couldn’t be more proud of the team, culture, and organization that it has become.

As a family helping families, The Behavior Exchanges looks for opportunities that will make the biggest impact and produce life-changing outcomes – for clients, families, and even for team members. Tammy believes that if a team, a family, a community takes care of each other, the possibilities are endless and the relationships built along the way can make life more enriching and challenges easier to navigate. You could say her goal has been to build a kind of utopia full of support, love, and expertise that brings the best services possible to the community and ensures more families have access to those services.

Tammy and her family have dedicated their lives to the mission of The Behavior Exchange and continue to grow, learn, cultivate, challenge, support, and create better models for success. To that end, she is committed to her own leadership development and actively participates in advanced training, mentoring, and deep self-exploration on how to live out her purpose to love and support her family and help others reach their full potential. She takes her position very seriously and tries to serve as a channel for what the universe wants to come to fruition.

She also loves travel, gardening, being creative, MUSIC!, tennis, yoga, meditation, journaling, reading, being in nature, adventures, and more than anything, spending time with her husband Walter and their two beautiful children, River and Sierra.