Am I a Self-Advocate?

The dictionary defines self-advocacy as the act of representing oneself or one’s views or interests. So, what does that look like practically for someone with autism? There will be times when a child, teen, or adult with autism will need to be able to explain that they have autism in order to explain why a specific accommodation is necessary. So, let’s dig a little deeper and uncover what self-advocacy and autism look like in the real world.

Should I share that I have autism with everyone?

Sharing your autism with everyone is not necessarily the best plan. Consider whether sharing this knowledge will help to build the relationship and whether sharing this is beneficial for you. If you are considering telling a potential employer or professor, think about specific ways that they could help make your transition smoother. For instance, you may need a future boss to know that you need a quiet work area, or you may benefit from a designated coworker to ask questions of. A professor might be able to give you a copy of his lecture notes or allow you to take tests in a separate setting. Sharing for the sake of sharing may not always be in your best interest. Decide if the outcome (understanding, accommodation, etc.) outweighs the possibility of discrimination that may occur.

Explanation of how autism affects you personally

Autism = Rainman, right? No, while the character Rainman may have presented some autistic characteristics, each person with autism will have their own unique characteristics. Because the term autism can conjure up many different ideas, it is best when you can explain in detail some of the challenges that you face. Having a roadmap of what autism looks like in your life will help others see ways they can make your path a little easier. Learning how autism affects your interactions with others will help you build stronger relationships.

Know your strengths as well as your challenges

Set a few minutes aside and take inventory of your strengths and your challenges. You know yourself best and it will be helpful if you can share that information with prospective employers/instructors. Asking a parent or friend can also help shed light on some areas that you excel at or even struggle with. Examples might include you prefer to work alone rather in groups. Maybe you like a detailed schedule as opposed to figuring it out as you go. You may need extra assistance in understanding verbal directions. Maybe you are a concrete thinker and do best when given specific directions on how to complete a task. Do not forget to keep in mind the areas that you excel in. Sharing your strengths can help offset the times when you may need extra assistance.

Create a Self-Advocacy script

Coming up with a few concise sentences about what your autism looks like from your perspective can help you when you make the decision to share. Here is a possible example;

I want to share with you that I have a diagnosis of autism. I am not sure how much you know about it, but it would be great if you could ask me some questions.  This could be more helpful than me trying to explain a lot of things that you might already know. My main reason for sharing is because I may act/react a little differently than others in certain situations.  I can assure you that while I may do things a little differently, I will try my best to meet your expectations.

Be prepared to answer any questions that they have regarding your particular experience with autism. Practicing this ahead of time with a friend or family member will be extremely important.

Wrapping up

While sharing will be different for everyone, the things mentioned here will be a good starting place in helping you become a self-advocate. If you are concerned about verbally sharing this, then write it out and share it with your boss or instructor.  Remember that everyone will be at a different level of understanding when you explain what autism is like for you. As a general rule, it will be easier to start off basic and allow them to ask questions, rather than overwhelm them with too much information. You are uniquely and wonderfully created, do not be afraid to share that with others.