Advocacy, simply put, is knowing what you need and how to express those needs to others. When you advocate for yourself, you are taking control of your life by making decisions that represent your views and interests. Counseling can help identify goals and preferences so that individuals can play an active role in making decisions based on their interests, strengths, and values. Being able to speak up for yourself is important for all people. It helps us to see that our ideas and feelings matter. For individuals with autism spectrum disorder, self-advocacy is a crucial piece of living a more independent life that often gets overlooked.
When children are young, they rely on their families to advocate for them. As children get older, they begin to form their own opinions and forge their paths. The tendency may be for well-meaning professionals and family members to try to prevent anything from going wrong in the lives of their family members or the person they’re supporting. While the intention may be good, this may send the message that the individual is not capable of making decisions and impede their ability to share preferences and make important life choices.
Individuals need to be self-determined by setting goals that reflect their desires and collaborating on how to achieve these goals. This includes taking risks and having the opportunity to learn from the successes, as well as the challenges. The concept of the “dignity of risk”, is that making choices and taking reasonable risks promotes self-esteem and ultimately leads to a more valued life.
It has been my experience, through work with individuals with autism spectrum disorder, that the process of identifying goals and sharing preferences has been life-changing. Being mindful that communication methods may vary among individuals is very important. For some, this may be verbal communication. For others, it may be typing to communicate. Still, others may use pictures or other forms of communication.
Self-advocacy applies to big and small decisions alike – from giving input on activities the individual would like to spend time on, to determining which course of study they would like to pursue. There are many benefits of self-advocacy, including building self-confidence, self-respect, and fostering independence. The biggest payoff of all is designing a life for you, by you.
If you would like to learn more about being your own advocate and setting goals for yourself reach out for a free consultation with one of our counselors here.