Teaching Your Child Self-Advocacy

Advocacy Tool Kit

August 24, 2018

Teaching your child self-advocacy is as important as advocating on his behalf. It is never too early to start learning these skills.

Some individuals with autism can verbally communicate their goals and desires while others may have difficulties with communication skills. As your family member with autism ages, he will need to learn how to assess problems, speak up and ask for what he needs, know his rights and how to negotiate.

Part of this may involve learning if or when to disclose his diagnosis. If he has the cognitive ability to understand, talk to him about autism. The more comfortable and open you are with the diagnosis, the more comfortable your child will be. Don’t downplay the challenges, but focus on his strengths, and assure your child that the entire family is behind him to offer love and support.

The skills you will use to advocate for your child now will be the same ones you will need to teach to your child as he grows so that he can become his own advocate as much as he is able to. He will need to communicate his needs and desires – from simple things such as telling others what he wants to eat or that he is in pain, to handling a range of real life situations that will require more sophisticated skills, such as how to ask a noisy roommate to be quieter.

It helps to role play different scenarios. You could ask him, “What could you do if your friend’s radio is too loud?” Teach him to identify options and desired outcomes; help him formulate such appropriate responses as “I’m sensitive to loud noise and your music is hurting my ears, could you please turn down the radio?” Your goal is to give him the skills that will someday enable him to advocate for his own needs to the best of his ability, in a work, community, or residential environment.

You will also find it helpful to reach out to adults with autism to learn about self-advocacy. Read their blogs; subscribe to their feeds on Facebook for important and unique insights only they can provide. If your child is cognitively able, he will need to know how to talk about his autism and how/if to disclose his diagnosis to others. Help him identify times and situations in his life where he can use these skills. The better your child learns to express himself and communicate with the people around him, the better he will someday be able to advocate for himself, cope with sensory problems and anxiety, and navigate the world outside the family.

Learning these skills is a lifelong process, and your child will do best when everyone involved works to give him as much independence, self-advocacy and negotiating skills as possible. Parents/guardians are in the best position to help children develop these skills. Model self-advocacy, and trust that as you find your voice, you will be able to help your child find his. The skills you teach him today will empower him for the rest of his life. 

Read more in the Autism Speaks Advocacy Tool Kit.