This is an excerpt from the Autism Speaks Advocacy Tool Kit, a guide to help individuals with autism and their families develop and use critical advocacy skills to achieve the best possible outcomes. The post is by Ann Shalof, a nonprofit professional focused on youth advocacy and empowerment.
Advocacy generally refers to the process of trying to persuade others to support your position or point of view. It can take place in many contexts, both formal (such as in an IEP meeting, in a courtroom, or on Capitol Hill) and informal (such as when a teenager makes a case to his parents to be allowed to stay out late). Advocacy is essential for a variety of reasons.
First, while we may think our concerns are or should be obvious, frequently that is not the case. It is essential that you communicate your concerns and your desired solutions. For example, your child’s school may not recognize that you are unhappy with his progress or that there are ongoing behavioral issues at home that are not being addressed in his educational program. It is important to make your concerns known because if not, an understaffed school district could be unaware of them or avoid addressing them altogether.
As a parent, you are very likely the one primarily responsible for securing your child’s future. As a result, it is necessary for you to be proactive in ensuring that his needs are met within the family, in school and ultimately, in the community. It is likely that at some point you will need to advocate on his behalf for services, support and acceptance.
Finally, it is also extremely important that your child learn to advocate for himself, by developing self-advocacy skills. Depending on his age and ability, this can mean anything from communicating his preferences in the home (e.g. letting you know he’d rather have an apple than an orange for a snack) to letting an employer know that he needs a reasonable workplace accommodation (e.g., a change in workspace lighting).
Why Teach Advocacy Skills
It is important to look at advocacy as a process. It is not sufficient simply to present your wishes or “demands” or to be knowledgeable about and invoke your rights. Of course, it is important to be well informed and understand your rights and entitlements. However, it is also important to get others to acknowledge and adhere to them.
You want to be strategic in your advocacy. You ultimately want either to enlist that party in working with you to meet your goal, or let them understand that you will be persistent and insistent in asserting your rights. Your goal should be to get others to support your position.
There are specific steps in the advocacy process that you can learn and that will help you be more effective in your advocacy. The Autism Speaks Advocacy Tool Kit will focus on helping you develop those skills. The goal is to provide insights and perspectives on the advocacy process, so that you can learn to formulate your own strategies about how best to pursue your goals, solve problems, resolve conflicts and achieve positive outcomes.