Self-Advocacy for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum

Today I spoke to a group of community college counselors about ways they can support young adults on the autism spectrum who are in the college setting.

Once an individual leaves high school there are two key differences for post-secondary education:

  • The burden is on the student to disclose and self-advocate;
  • The student must be able to abide by the academic and behavior standards with reasonable accommodations.

 We can help individuals on the autism spectrum become effective self advocates in school and in work settings by helping them identify and discuss key things others need to know to support success in those settings.

I encourage teachers and parents to begin using the simple strategy of developing a list of “Five Things My Teacher Needs to Know About Me” as early as kindergarten for verbal children.

The idea behind this short list is to help the individual identify key strengths and areas of challenge before he or she enters into a new relationship and new school or work setting. The words “autism” or “Asperger’s Syndrome” usually don’t appear on this list of five things because the label itself does not describe individual qualities that are key to the understanding of the child or young adult and his or her needs. Instead, the list highlights the individual’s areas of interest or abilities along with triggers for difficulties.

The list gives the individual a structured way to have an interaction with the teacher or employer that focuses on having the individual self-disclose and ask for assistance. The teacher or employer tend to respond to this succinct discussion in a positive and supportive way.

Here is a sample list from a 16 year old:

  1. I love to read and remember facts about many subjects, including science and history.
  2. My hobbies include video games and chess.
  3. I do best when I know about changes in advance and can see the change in writing.
  4. I prefer working alone than in groups
  5. Making mistakes frustrates me and I sometimes need to take a break to regroup when I  become overwhelmed

  Notice that the list starts with positive attributes and ends with areas in which the individual may need some help.

If you are a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, or a professional who works with children on the spectrum, consider helping that individual develop a list of “Five Things My Teacher Needs To Know About Me.”

Share your list on the Autism Conversations Facebook Fan Page: