How to Build Self-Advocacy Skills in Your Autistic Child

As our children grow, so much time is spent focused on their education, wondering if they will have satisfactory employment and if they will be able to live on their own. Yet, the ability to self-advocate is what most determines the quality of a person’s life. 

Self-advocacy is the ability for someone to understand and articulate their own needs and desires. This skill is particularly valuable for children on the autism spectrum, as it enables them to navigate social interactions and advocate for themselves in educational settings. It’s about giving them the tools they need to express themselves, understand their rights, and make informed decisions about their own lives.

Building self-advocacy skills in your autistic child is more than just empowering–it’s essential for their personal growth and autonomy. By fostering these skills, you are enhancing your child’s independence, boosting their confidence, and ensuring they have a strong voice in conversations about their needs and future.

Start By Giving Your Child Choices

Starting by giving your child choices significantly empowers them to make decisions and express their preferences, which is a huge step towards self-advocacy. This method allows them to practice decision-making in a controlled environment, setting the stage for more complex self-advocacy scenarios.

For instance, involving your child in choosing meals for the family or selecting their extracurricular activities can give them a sense of control and agency. Even children with more limited verbal skills can participate by working on using gestures such as pointing to indicate their choices. Their involvement in decisions about their own lives is a practical step in nurturing their ability to advocate for themselves.

Include Your Child in IEP (or Similar) Meetings

If you really want your child to understand their rights and the support systems available to them, including your child in an IEP or similar meeting is invaluable. This participation demystifies the processes that shape their education and care, providing them with a platform for them to express their needs and preferences. 

It’s a proactive step in teaching them how to navigate and influence decisions that affect their lives. This involvement not only boosts their confidence in self-expression but also ensures that their voice is heard in discussions about their education and support, promoting a more personalized and effective learning environment, and preparing them for more independence in the future.

Help Them Identify Coping Strategies

Be consistent as you can about helping your child identify coping strategies that can help them through periods of stress or sensory overload. Talk with their occupational therapist or others on their care team about potential ways to manage their reactions. When your child understands their own responses to different environments, like noise or changes in routine, and has ideas of what helps them cope, they can better advocate for themselves.

Teaching them to articulate their needs for breaks or adjustments, and showing them how to use these specific coping mechanisms, can empower them to manage their stress. They learn more self-awareness and self-advocacy, laying a foundation for them to request accommodations and advocate for their needs more independently.

Model Self-Advocacy

Often, watching us advocate for ourselves can be a powerful teaching tool. Whether it’s requesting accommodations you might want, expressing preferences, or resolving conflicts, showing your child how you advocate for yourself provides them with relatable, real-world examples of assertive communication. It offers them a framework they can understand and mirror.

In empowering your autistic child with self-advocacy skills, you’re investing in their future independence, confidence, and personal growth. Every step, from offering choices to modeling self-advocacy, is a building block towards their autonomy. 

Remember, the journey towards self-advocacy is ongoing and requires patience and encouragement. If you’re looking for more guidance and support, or want to know more about how Gersh Academy promotes self-advocacy for our students, reach out here.





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