“When the world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”- Ms. Malala Yousafzai, Youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
In a lay person’s term, self-advocacy is defined as the ability of a person to speak up on behalf of themselves and their requirements & needs. It’s doing what is required to make sure your needs or goals are met. For those on the Autism spectrum, it means the ability to convey that they are on the spectrum and they need assistance or help with certain actions, needs, etc. The foundation of the self-advocacy needs to be guided by the child. Regardless if your child has the vocal ability to communicate, their behaviors communicate whether they feel comfortable or uncomfortable, whether they need accommodations or not, and it is the duty of the parent to put into words what the child is in need of.
Self-awareness is key to being able to engage in self-advocacy. From the early stages, children need to be educated on their diagnosis. They would need to be taught about how living with ASD influences their interactions with others and their immediate environment. The more that your child knows about his/her diagnosis, the easier it is for them to be able to navigate the world. The parents or the caregivers should let the child know about their strengths so that they can be fostered leading to their success in various domains.
Various self-help groups for advocacy for those on the spectrum are available and who are doing a great job in terms of creating awareness and lobbying the people in power, getting things done. Two of them being the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the Self Advocates Becoming Empowered. These organizations share community news and are great forums for sharing thoughts and opinions. Join a group and learn how to impart the self-advocacy skills to your child.
How to help your child with self-advocacy:
Add self-advocacy goals to the IEP and treatment plan
Help your child understand their sensory need and how to ask for environmental accommodations
Providing support in learning how and when to self-disclose
Educate them on the Americans with Disabilities Act and other vital laws
Learning to self-advocate will empower your child to achieve their goals and be able to be their authentic self. The power is their hands.