7 Ways to Be an Everyday Advocate for Your Child with Autism

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by: Erin Dower
Standing up for your child with autism isn't easy, but every parent can learn the skills to become a powerful advocate and help improve the system for people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). One mother of a child with autism, and a legal expert on ASD, has advice for taking control and turning an overwhelming situation into something empowering. Areva Martin, Esq., offers these "Seven Principles of Advocacy" in her book, The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up for Your Child with Autism. These key principles may help you get the services and attention your child deserves in school and in life.
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Principle 1 – Take Responsibility: Be a Leader
Martin's Advice: Accepting a leadership role as an advocate for your child will bolster your position in encounters with doctors, teachers, caregivers, therapists and others who offer services to your child with autism. You are on a steep learning curve and cannot change things overnight – but do your best and over time you will make a difference.
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Principle 2 – Learn: Be an Expert
Martin's Advice: You don't need a special degree to become an expert on autism; you are already an expert on your child. However, to be taken seriously as an advocate, you must know the facts about everything from the initial diagnosis to treatment options, educational choices, and federal and state laws protecting individuals with disabilities. You must also learn the jargon and abbreviations associated with autism.

Find the critical books, articles, and other materials on autism and special education. Also, identify 10 key experts in the field, read what they have published online and/or in print, and consider contacting them personally as a resource, if possible.

Source: The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up for Your Child with Autism

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Principle 3 – Think Critically: Be Discerning
Martin's Advice: In researching autism, you will be exposed to countless sources of information – from online articles, chat rooms, and blogs, to books, magazines, and newspapers. You will constantly have to weigh what to believe and what to do for your child. Always think for yourself; examine the evidence, pros, and cons; and notice how your emotions are affecting your thinking.

Source: The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up for Your Child with Autism

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Principle 4 – Speak with Authority: Be Proactive
Martin's Advice: Even if you have never been a powerful speaker, you can practice and learn to discuss autism with authority at school meetings, medical appointments, and other settings. Remember, you are absolutely the best person to frame your child's situation in the most compassionate way. Even if you don't consider yourself to be courageous, you can become an outspoken advocate when it comes down to your child's best interest.

Source: The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up for Your Child with Autism

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Principle 5 – Document: Be Prepared
Martin's Advice: Keeping your documents organized – from your child's initial diagnosis to his multiple evaluations every year – will simplify your life and empower you as an advocate. Keep a file of all important paperwork, and take notes during in-person meetings and even during phone conversations requesting services or insurance coverage.

Also consider keeping a journal for you and your child to record his experiences – his strengths and challenges, artwork and summer camp certificates, and so on – so that you can share it with new teachers, babysitters, and even relatives to help give a glimpse of your child's life.

Source: The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up for Your Child with Autism

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Principle 6 – Collaborate: Be a Team Builder
Martin's Advice: Constantly strive for synergy – working together to pool your human resources and help your child. Your team may include a specialty physician who meets your child once or twice, and your child's special education aide who sees her in school every day. Even if you feel exhausted and stressed from your everyday experiences, always have high-quality interactions and keep the big picture as an advocate for your child in mind. Being an amicable teammate will offer big advantages.

Source: The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up for Your Child with Autism

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Principle 7 – Educate: Be a Voice for Your Child
Martin's Advice: Find opportunities to educate others about autism. Speak at your local PTA, school board, or city hall meeting. Spread the word and sensitize others to the needs of people with disabilities. Within your family, explain your child's diagnosis with patience and compassion, and keep key relatives informed of updates.

When you encounter those who make rude or insensitive remarks, take the opportunity to change things for the better rather than taking offense or disregarding it. Every person you affect will affect others.

Click here to purchase The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up for Your Child with Autism by Areva Martin, Esq. © 2011 Penguin Group.