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Your Dollars @ Work: Teaching adults with autism to be advocates

This Your Dollars @ Work post is from Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a recent recipient of a Community Grant from Autism Speaks. They’re doing great work to help young adults on the spectrum! For information on the grants Autism Speaks offers, please visit https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/grants

The Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC) Young Adult Leaders Fellowship provides opportunities for young adults with autism and/or intellectual disabilities between the ages of 18-26 to spend a year at MAC, learning the professional skills needed to advocate on behalf of youth with autism and other disabilities. MAC was able to launch this new Fellowship with the generous support of Autism Speaks and other funders.  Valerie MacIver, a recent Young Adult Leader Fellow described her experiences working at MAC:   

Meet Valerie at Work: In Her Words…

My name is Valerie MacIver and I am autistic. Currently I am working as a Fellow at Massachusetts Advocates for Children. I am learning about different types of advocacy, including advocating for myself and for others as well as for laws and funding. I also understand more about special education services and resources.

Each day at MAC is an amazing experience. On some days, I attend a meeting or a lecture at the State House, write an essay on my experience, and make phone calls to Representatives regarding budget concerns. I have presented about transition at different trainings with different staff from MAC. During my presentation at the Federation for Children with Special Needs, I told my story about being bullied. In addition, I’m learning how to work in an office setting.

In my opinion, the Fellowship has a significant role in bridging gaps in my abilities to prepare me for a future career. I am passionate about improving my advocacy skills because I desire to grow as an individual. MAC is helping me to discover ways to branch out, stretch my comfort zone, and find out more about who I am as a person on the autism spectrum.

During Val’s stint as a Young Adult Leaders Fellow for MAC, she produced a series of three videos discussing her journey with autism from diagnosis to self-advocacy. MAC is pleased to release these videos in a series called the Teachings of Val. She shared her thoughts on the process of creating the videos with MAC.

Why did you create these videos?  I created these videos with the goal of spreading awareness as well as acceptance around disabilities and advocacy. From finding out about my diagnosis of autism to leading my own IEP meeting, I have experienced both the difficulties as well as the helpfulness of the special education system in Massachusetts.

What are you hoping to accomplish with these videos?  I would like the videos to help people of any age who have been touched by disabilities. My intention has been to explain my story so that others will have my videos as resources.

What was the process of creating them like for you?   The process of creating the videos was a challenge. Initially, I was excited about forming what I hope others will find a useful set of videos. As I continued to work on the videos, I began to become more anxious. Now the whole world will have access to my announcement about the fact that I have autism. Let’s be real: that makes me feel vulnerable. However, I have decided the pros of helping others far outweigh the potential cons. I am shining light on my disability as well as the steps I took towards becoming a self-advocate in order to fulfill my desire to help people. Whether a person has a disability or not, I believe that disability rights, special education, and advocacy are all important to learn about. I hope you all find my experience informative and meaningful.

Watch The Teachings of Val:

Teaching #1: When You Find Out You Have Autism

Teaching #2: The Importance of Self-Advocacy

Teaching #3: Using the Laws to Self-Advocate

MAC has developed materials available to other advocacy, autism, and disability organizations that want to support self-advocates and launch a similar Fellowship program. To learn more about the Young Adult Leaders Fellowship, click here

The Fellowship is one of many ways in which MAC’s Autism Center advocates to remove barriers and help ensure children and young adults with autism can reach their potential. To learn more about our autism advocacy, click here.  

Your Dollars @ Work is a blog series highlighting the important work of past recipients of Autism Speaks grants to give you a glimpse into how your donations are changing lives of so many in the autism community! Check out previous entries here

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.