I just want to raise my autistic child to be happy, to be confident, to be independent to advocate for themselves.
That’s all I want.
- I don’t care if my autistic child is a doctor.
- I don’t care if they go to a good school.
- I don’t care what they do in their future.
What I do care about is that I am raising my autistic child to live a happy and independent and joyous life where they are confident and can advocate for themselves.
That is the most common thing that I hear from the parent-advocates that I help over and over and over again.
They don’t care what their child does. They don’t care that their child is successful. They don’t care what it looks like.
They just want to be sure that what they’re doing now is supporting their child and helping them become independent and confident self-advocates.
If that sounds like you, friend, you are in the right place.
Because today I’m sharing three very specific steps parent-advocates can take to help encourage independence & self-advocacy in our Autistic children.
(Pssst… You’re coming to the new training: 3 Secrets to Become a Confident Parent-Advocate, right? Register here!)
3 Ways to Encourage Independence & Self-Advocacy
First, a little storytime.
Because here’s the thing: when I use especially the word independent, or the word self-advocate, it kind of sends up people’s spidey senses a little bit.
So I know you might be thinking… that’s great for you, Kaylene.
That’s great for your child or for autistics like you… But my child doesn’t communicate verbally.
My child won’t self-advocate because they use an adaptive device to communicate.
My child won’t be independent because they have “high support needs”.
And I’m going to challenge you—because that’s what I do here as a parent coach—and let you know that your child can be a happy and independent self-advocate.
It can sound kind of ridiculous, and I fully acknowledge that.
But I want to tell you about this wonderful human named Amy Sequenzia.
Amy is a non-speaking Autistic adult and self-advocate. And not only that, she’s also on the board of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
If you don’t know, the ASAN is a pretty massive organization that is quite literally changing the way that the world approaches autism.
And if Amy Sequenzia can do that, do you also believe your child can be a self-advocate that your child can have independence?
#1 Accept What Is While Believing What Could Be
The very first thing that helps our kids grow into independent self-advocates is to accept them as they are fully… And that is not always an easy thing to do.
Because as parents, we have dreams for our kids, we have hopes for them. We have moments that we want for our kids.
And sometimes, especially when they’re younger and we don’t know if those are going to be possible, it can feel really heavy and scary when we don’t know if those things are possible for our child.
But there is very little progress that can be made when we are fearing for the future.
Very little progress is made from a place of fear.
So instead of thinking, but they may never do this, and they may never do that, and they may never do this—fear-based thinking— we accept what is right now.
If our child is non-speaking, and we accept that and believe that it is okay that they are non-speaking and even okay if they continue to be non-speaking…
If we can accept that our autistic teenagers struggle with executive functioning and that they may always struggle with executive functioning…
If we can accept where our Autistic children are right now, fully, there is magic in that.
But accepting things as they are is not the end all be all.
Because you’ll remember from this post about autism or behavior, we talked about how, as parents, we help our children grow.
And if they stay where they are right now forever and ever, they are not necessarily growing.
That’s where believing in what could be comes in.
This is sometimes called presuming competence, and it basically means that we believe that our Autistic children are capable.
- Even if they aren’t doing it right now
- Even if they’re not proving that they’re capable
- Even if we have no evidence of that capability
We as parents can presume competence, we can believe that they are capable.
And this step might feel kind of circular…
It’s all about believing our kids can do something, while also accepting if they can’t, and letting go of our attachment to the result.
And it’s much easier said than done… Which is why I highly encourage you to have a community of parents on this same journey that you are on and guidance from an Autistic mentor for when this step gets hard.
#2 Becoming an Expert In Your Child So They Can Become an Expert In Themselves
As a parent advocate, you can become the number one expert on your unique child so that they can become the expert on themselves.
Parents are in this strange space because neurotypical parent-advocates are not the expert on autism, Autistics are.
But you are the expert—or you can be—on your own unique Autistic child.
And, if I’m being honest, to not acknowledge the amount of time and energy and investment that parents have made in understanding their kids, it would be ridiculous.
So I’ll say, even though it may be controversial, I don’t actually think that most parents need to spend hours and hours researching autism.
As a parent-advocate, you don’t need to be an expert on autism (you can have an Autistic mentor in your back pocket for that) because your job is to become the #1 expert in your Autistic child.
And when you spend so much time in research-mode, learning anything and everything there is to know about autism, here’s what you’ll find…
- Half of all information out there (at least) is straight harmful and dangerous
- A quarter of it tells you all the things not to do, and never what you should do
- And the last quarter will by hyper specific to situations that don’t apply to your family or your child anyway
Instead, what if we shift our perspective and think: I’m going to become the #1 expert on my child…
- I’m going to figure out my child’s triggers.
- I’m going to figure out their sensory preferences.
- I’m going to figure out their communication type.
- I’m going to figure out their struggles.
- I’m going to figure out what works for them and what doesn’t.
And in that process, when you get stuck, you can reach out to an Autistic mentor and get feedback on your unique situation.
“My son is triggered by loud noises, but he can’t tolerate headphones. What accommodations could we try?”
Now the real power in this is that once you are an expert in your unique child, you get to help them become an expert in themselves.
They get to understand their own sensory needs. Their own triggers. The accommodations they need to be successful.
This is something that many adult autistics didn’t get the luxury of. We didn’t know there was a reason that we did the things we did.
But now, we have the power as parent-advocates to change that for the next generation.
And that is powerful, friend.
#3 Modeling Effective Advocacy While Accepting Self-Advocacy
As parent-advocates, we advocate for our kids all the time.
I mean, it’s kind of in the job title.
But when we advocate for our autistic children, whether it’s at school or with your mother in law, or even at the Girl Scouts…
Every time we advocate for our kids we are showing them what it looks like to advocate and also that they are worth the advocacy.
We are showing our kids that is not too much trouble to ask for their accommodations.
That is not a burden to fight for our kids.
That they are worth making sure that their needs are met.
And at the same time, they get to see how you advocate for them.
They get to see the way that you navigate these situations, how you advocate with people in authority, how you explain different needs…
All of that is modeling effective self-advocacy skills.
Now, the harder part of this step is to accept self-advocacy from your Autistic child.
Spoiler alert: most autistic kids don’t start out self-advocating in the kindest way. okay.
You kind of have to learn the skill of how to advocate in a way that others want to listen to you.
In the beginning, self-advocacy might look like…
- Hitting you
- Saying “leave me alone”
- Shouting “I hate you”
- Screaming “go away”
These are all technically self-advocacy, and here’s why…
Self-advocacy at its core is about getting your voice heard and getting your needs met.
And while it’s not the nicest thing to shout “shut up” at someone, it is advocating for a legitimate need.
I need you to be quiet, so I’m going to say shut up.
Now, I’m not saying that forever and ever, we should have our kids tell us to shut up.
However, if we, as parent-advocates, don’t give that space for our Autistic children to figure out self-advocacy…
Even when they do it in a “rude” way that nobody wants to listen to…
If we don’t give them that space, they are not going to gain the confidence to advocate in the effective way that people want to listen to them.
So just to recap, the three steps to encouraging independence & self-advocacy are…
- Accept what is, while believing in what could be.
- Become the number one expert in your child, so that you can help them to become an expert in themselves.
- Model effective advocacy, while accepting self-advocacy.
And if you read this post and you’re thinking… “Heck yeah, that’s exactly what I want for my Autistic child! But, uh, how do I actually do this?!”
Well, friend, that’s exactly what I’ll be teaching in my FREE Autism Journey Workshop.
>> Click here to reserve your spot! <<
In this 4-day workshop, I’ll be walking you step by step through:
- Strategies to be the calm in the storm and manage meltdowns without sacrificing your sanity (and ways to reduce their frequency and intensity)
- Techniques to reduce demands on your child without increasing the demand on you (and how to tell if you’re accommodating vs. coddling)
- Tools for dealing with unavoidable boundaries (featuring topics like electronics, rigidity, aggression, and more)
- The path towards advocacy with schools and therapists (and how you can set a stellar example, so your child learns to advocate for themselves)
- Autism myths your child’s team taught you (vs. what’s actually possible for Autistics today)
- The Autism Journey Roadmap, so you can identify which stages your child is in, and create a custom Parent-Advocate Plan to help you navigate through it.
We start August 30th… Click here to reserve your spot for free!