In conjunction with the Brian & Patricia Kelly Postsecondary Scholarship Fund, Autism Speaks has also launched the Postsecondary Educational Opportunities Guide, designed to help you and your family explore the different opportunities and learning environments after leaving high school. To give you a glimpse of our latest resource, below is the introduction to the new guide by Dr. Stephen Shore on the importance of self-advocacy in postsecondary education.
A professor outlines a complex assignment or your supervisor gives you a long list of tasks to complete a job. Soon, you are lost in a verbal maze of directions and deadlines. What do you do? You immediately realize that there is just too much to remember. You might then ask for a moment to whip something out to take these instructions down with. Next, you might explain to him or her that you may not remember all of the details you’ve been given.
These common scenarios contain the three basic elements of successful self-advocacy –recognizing a problem, arriving at and implementing an effective plan to address it, and disclosing the reason you need a modification or a clearer understanding of the situation.
While engaging in higher education is often rewarding on a number of levels, colleges and universities can also be a landmine of self-advocacy challenges for individuals on the autism spectrum and with other related conditions. This guide, along with the resources listed at the end, will help you establish a firm groundwork for recognizing when challenges occur, explaining your needs in a way that allows others to understand and be supportive, and clarifying why the accommodation or more information is needed.
For those of you headed towards vocational/technical schools, life skills programs, or perhaps even directly into employment, the concepts brought forth in this guide will be of great assistance as well. In fact, even in everyday life, the process and importance of self-advocacy remains the same.
For example, when entering a restaurant, I first scan for noise and recessed lighting fixtures in the ceiling. For me, a noisy restaurant is overwhelming to my sense of hearing, and sitting under a recessed lighting fixture is like looking into a spotlight. If there is too much noise, I will either ask to sit in a quieter place or perhaps even choose a different place to dine. If I find myself under a recessed lighting fixture, I will ask the person I am with if they mind switching seats with me and explain that the light is too bright for my eyes. The explanation has two purposes: First, it would be unfair to expose the other person to a potential sensory violation without fair warning. Second, I am disclosing why I am asking to make the seat change.
Good luck in your advocacy efforts. We’re here to help. The self-advocacy abilities you develop and hone will be very helpful in furthering your education. These skills will continue to be of great assistance to you after graduation when it comes to relationships, employment, involvement in the community, and in all other aspects of life.