For many people, developing communication and advocacy skills is an ongoing process that can continue into adulthood and beyond.
For the neurodiverse population, there may be several elements that make cultivating self-advocacy skills a challenge. Individuals on the spectrum may have different communication styles, struggle to navigate social situations, experience high levels of anxiety, and have compromised self-esteem. All of these factors may become barriers to effectively voicing their own needs and goals. Having the ability to advocate for our needs is key in gaining greater independence in life.
In many instances, parents have taken a primary role in advocating for their autistic child in school and other settings from the time they were young. This has often been necessary for receiving appropriate services and supports. But as individuals on the spectrum enter adulthood and become ready, it is essential for them to develop self-awareness, confidence, and communication skills. This allows the young adult to understand their own needs, advocate for accommodations, and establish the goals they have chosen for themselves.
Family relationships and establishing independence is complex and is not necessarily a linear process. While recognizing the significant role families play in their clients’ lives, it is important for professionals working with adult clients on the spectrum to help them create healthy boundaries with their parents as appropriate, foster independent thinking, and adopt respectful communication with those friends and family who support them. These healthy boundaries ultimately promote a sense of self-esteem and independence.
LifeMAP coaches incorporate a variety of strategies and resources that help their clients develop self-advocacy skills. Working with existing support circles can be very important when clients are starting to build self-advocacy and independence.
One LifeMAP coach said that meeting initially with both the client and parent or family members is helpful in determining what the client’s needs are and how the client will work on accomplishing their goals. This helps to emphasize early on in the coaching process that the focus on attaining goals and building self-advocacy skills is the responsibility of the client and not the parent or family member. “One of the main components of LifeMAP coaching is assisting the client to achieve goals independently and be able to lead productive lives with the ability to advocate and make decisions for themselves,” a coach stated. “Only then can an individual attain the necessary confidence and skills to move forward.”
As another coach said, “Allowing the client to take responsibility for their own decisions is necessary in building self-advocacy skills. The ability to develop communication and negotiation skills along with asserting one’s own needs is crucial in making life decisions and being able to function as an independent adult.” Often coaches will have clients express what steps they are taking in order to communicate their needs and will role play negotiating skills. They employ a variety of strategies to encourage independent thinking, and will tailor those strategies to the individual client.
Clients begin to build their self-esteem as they develop these skills. As one of our LifeMAP clients stated, “Self-advocacy is important because it allows me to have a structured plan in accomplishing my goals, being able to identify what you are looking for in a specific job and how you envision yourself accomplishing your goals is essential in gaining employment. It also helps in building my self-confidence.”
By working on self-advocacy with the professionals in their life, adults on the spectrum can move towards independence and acquire a sense of empowerment and autonomy.