Survival guide for families growing up with autism

Posts tagged ‘self-advocacy’

Self-Advocacy 2: Where do we start?

What is self-advocacy, anyway?  It’s a complex collection of behaviors including speaking up for yourself and your rights, asking for what you need, negotiating, compromising, using available resources to get your needs met, and, perhaps most importantly, being able to explain your disability to others, either verbally or using visual tools such as a written or pictorial card. As parents, it’s natural for us to advocate for our children. As infants and young children they were unable to advocate for themselves and it was all up to us. Now, though, we want to retire from this job. But are our children ready to take on advocating for themselves? If not, when should we start passing the advocacy baton?

When it comes to self-advocacy, it’s never too soon to start working toward independence.  Julia writes that she’s teaching her students self-advocacy and problem-solving in elementary school. We can allow toddlers and preschoolers to make choices about what they will wear or eat, within acceptable guidelines.  But chances are your children are already teens or young adults. You may only now be realizing that they did not develop self-advocacy skills naturally as they matured, the way many of their neuro-typical peers did. So, how do we start now?

The answer is as individual as your child; start where she or he is right now.

Is your son nonverbal? Make sure you have the right augmentative communication device for him. If it has the option to program in phrases, questions or answers, make sure the device is programmed to say the specific phrases your child most wants to communicate.  Also, listen to the voice on the device; whose voice is it Your son probably does not want to sound like his mother or speech therapist. You might want to ask the drama teacher at your local high school to hold auditions, and let your son choose the voice he wants to speak for him.

Is your daughter high functioning in some ways, but immature when it comes to making decisions or solving problems? Provide needed guidance while respecting her intelligence and individual preferences.

Does your son seem to be permanently attached to his computer, or your daughter to her smart phone? Are they uncomfortable with verbal conversations or face-to-face interactions? You may find it’s easier to communicate about the transition process via email or text rather than face to face.

Wherever your child is, that’s the place to start. The Autism Speaks Transition Tool Kit says, “The transition process will take time. It is important that you work with your adolescent to provide the communication, self-help and self-advocacy skills that he or she needs in order to be an active participant in the process.”

(Next post: Self-Advocacy 3 – Introducing Self-Advocacy)


Self-Advocacy 1: What’s the big deal?

We all want our children to be able to self-advocate: to speak up for themselves and their rights, to stand up to those who would bully or use them, to know how and where to ask for help when needed. In general, to go forth into the world as adults without needing a parent or teacher to negotiate and smooth every bump in the road for them.

We know they’re good enough; most of our children with autism have a strong sense of integrity, a basic, innate goodness of spirit, and a heartfelt desire to do the right thing.

We may even know they’re smart enough; some of our people on the spectrum score much higher on IQ tests than many of their peers who seem to have no difficulty making their way in the world.

But we also know that, unlike typical young people their age, our young adults are seldom prepared to make important choices, to follow through on necessary steps to reach a goal, or to cope with those unexpected surprises life has a tendency to throw at us.

Most of us have assumed that our children would gain these skills over time as they mature, much the way their typical siblings and classmates do. By the time we realize it’s not happening automatically (meaning without direct instruction from us or their teachers) it’s a little late in the game.

But it’s not too late.

We’ll be discussing some of the things we, as parents, can do to help our children learn to advocate for themselves. If they are still in school, we’ll talk about some ideas to bring up at the IEP meeting regarding transition and self-advocacy. Wherever your child is right now along that path (or even at the very beginning about to step or be pushed onto the path) there are steps to take.

In the meantime, leave a comment, a question, or especially tips for others in our shoes – what was most useful in helping your child learn to stand up for himself? What advice or book or guidepost can you share? Don’t keep it to yourself.

(Next post: Self-Advocacy 2: Where do we start?)