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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Transition Topic: The Link between Self-Understanding and Self-Advocacy

By Leah Kelley
February 6, 2013

I can get very excited about the topic of self-advocacy!

I am supporting H in his journey, but as I support his learning, there are a number of things I have been pondering…

Opportunities to Develop Self-Understanding

I think part of the work that needs to be done in supporting H in becoming an effective self-advocate is that he needs to be given opportunities to develop self-understanding.

I am tireless in my efforts to help the world better understand a child like mine and be responsive to and understanding of his perspective, as someone who experiences the world differently.

More than this, though, he needs to understand himself and the way that he experiences and processes emotions, or sensory overload, or too much language, or a large crowd, or – well frankly – the list is long.

This goes beyond self-awareness, because to truly advocate for himself there are certain things he needs to be able to do:
  • he needs to understand how his needs might be different from others,
  • and then be able to explain this to others,
  • and feel justified and empowered to ask for or explain what it is he needs.

This self-understanding also extends to areas of strength…

H needs to be supported in understanding his talents and abilities, in order to have an accurate vision of himself in terms of what he has to offer. He needs the opportunity to see the value of certain traits that will be potentially very useful throughout his life. For instance, his depth of knowledge in his multiple areas of intense interest are a definite asset.

He needs to feel confident to be able to share that he has a certain spacial wizardry, evidenced in his amazing ability see possibilities and to create new things out of old.

If he has a good understanding of his strengths then he will be better able to advocate for himself so that his is able to make the most of these, and so that he is able to create or take advantage of opportunities for himself.

This is so much to expect – a lot! - but not too much.

H has just turned 14 – and adulthood is closing in fast. This used to worry me in a nagging way, but now I have mostly abandoned my forward-looking-fear of the future. Instead I am embracing a vision of H as capable and able to make his way in the world. I am really excited by the possibilities I see for my awesome boy – and for his emerging advocacy skills.

I still don’t know where this amazing journey with my child will lead. It is impossible to know the future, but I am convinced that working to support H in developing his understanding and appreciation of himself and his ability to share that with others will help him to be fulfilled as he moves into adulthood.

About Leah Kelley

Leah Kelley is a K–12 Special Needs Resource Teacher, a parent of a child with ASD, and an experienced primary teacher. She completed her Masters Degree in Education at Simon Fraser University, focusing on Supporting Educators in Understanding the Experience of Students with Autism.
In September, 2011 Kelley also became a part of the instructional team for Simon Fraser University’s Graduate Field Studies Program, “Supporting Diverse Learners." She is excited about the opportunity to work in a mentorship role with educators to support them in building their understanding(s) and capacities within the teacher research paradigm, and for their own work to support the diverse needs of students that are present in our schools.

30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by ASD.


NOTE: Self-advocacy is an essential skill that must be mastered by adolescents and young adults hoping to make successful post-secondary transitions into college or the workplace. We talk about this a lot in the course of NESCA's five-session "Transition Tuesday" series, which begins on February 26th. For additional information or to register, please call Amanda Renzi at 617-658-9800, or email nesca@nesca-newton.com. Thanks!

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