When autistic children are young, their loving parents and families are their best advocates. But autism self-advocacy is crucial for achieving varying levels of independence and improving confidence and accessibility for all autistics.
The Benefits of Teaching Autism Self-Advocacy Skills
Teaching your child to self-advocate is essential. You will not always be around to advocate for your child, and it’s important to help your child build the confidence he needs to learn, work, and live comfortably. Teaching autism self-advocacy skills offers many crucial benefits for children:
- It builds self-confidence.
- It allows them to realize the power of positive thinking, making the most of their reality and using their gifts to achieve their goals.
- It promotes peace and acceptance, teaching society to embrace disability and improve living for all autistic or otherwise disabled people
- It helps them achieve varying levels of independence as they learn to communicate their specific needs and utilize their talents.
5 Tips for Teaching Autism Self-Advocacy
You may have grown comfortable advocating for your child, navigating the educational world of I.E.P.s and 504 plans, making appropriate sensory accommodations, and seeking patient, caring friendship opportunities. This knowledge and skill must eventually be transferred to autistic children, but it may be difficult to determine when they are ready. Below are several tips for teaching your autistic child the critical skill of self-advocacy:
Teach them about autism.
It is important for autistic individuals to know what autism is in order to understand exactly how they are affected by it. Autism is a complex neurological condition, but children can learn some of the basic diagnostic criteria, and you can encourage them to read the writings of other self-advocates who describe autistic living. Autism affects individuals in different ways, but children should at the very least understand how they specifically are affected and how this plays out in their daily lives.
Teach them how to articulate their strengths and weaknesses.
You’ve been assessing your child’s strengths and weaknesses for years. It’s your job as a parent to nourish strengths and offer support to address weaknesses. But honest, personal assessment of strengths and weaknesses is difficult for both autistic and neurotypicals alike. Ask your child to try and identify his strengths and weaknesses first. Then provide him with additional examples and how they impact his life on a daily or long-term basis. Remember to stress that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and that the more self-aware you are, the greater opportunity you have for growth.
Practice when to disclose their needs.
It’s important to help your child learn that self-advocacy is important, but there is a time and a place for full disclosure. Teach your child to request his needs, but not to over-share. The Don’t Freak Out Guide to Parenting Kids With Asperger’s by Sharon Fuentes and Neil McNerney suggests teaching your child the difference between needs and preferences. Offer him examples of situations where it might be appropriate to request a specific accommodation and when he can either delay or achieve a preference on his own.
Practice how to disclose their autism.
You can teach your child safe people to disclose their specific needs to. This may include teachers, disability advocates, or employers, depending on your child’s particular situation. You can help him practice saying a statement that explains his most important needs, such as particular sensory sensitivities. You could also help him type a statement specific to his educational needs that he could give to new teachers.
Teach them to find and utilize appropriate resources.
A critical skill to autism self-advocacy is knowing how to continually find resources to meet your needs. This means finding the right people to vocalize your needs to. Tell your child about specific advocacy and disability support organizations that have a broader understanding about disability policy and resources on local, state, and national levels.
Autism Self-Advocacy Resources for Your Child
The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) has published a variety of resources written by autistic people and for autistic people who are interested in learning more about autism self-advocacy. Some of them are listed below.
- Navigating College– This resource offers legal information practical tips for autistic individuals first entering college and then adjusting to the unique academic and social demands of this environment.
- Welcome to the Autistic Community– ASAN offers guides for both adolescents and adults who are newly-diagnosed. This resource answers some common questions about autism and autism self-advocacy and explains neurodiversity.
- Accessing Home and Community-Based Services: A Guide for Self-Advocates– This guidebook offers information about community-based services, including Medicaid waivers and other government programs. It also teaches autistic people how to organize their own support service programs.
- Self-Advocacy Curriculum– According to ASAN, the self-advocacy curriculum is “a tool that is intended to help individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities learn more about the self-advocacy movement; celebrate neurodiversity; cultivate local self-advocacy groups; and ultimately, become and remain empowered through self-advocacy.”