Advocating for Your Child with Autism

We are our children’s biggest cheerleaders. We root for them. We protect them. We teach them. And we advocate for them. All children need people who have their back when it comes to school and life in general, but this can be doubly important for kids with autism.

If your child has autism, you might sometimes feel overwhelmed trying to gain access to the best care and resources possible. The good news is that people want to help your child succeed. And good news: Those resources do exist — it’s just a matter of getting plugged in.

Arm Yourself with Knowledge

“One of the best ways a parent can effectively advocate for their child’s needs is to understand what resources are available and how they can be effectively used,” says LaShell Dauterman, Ed.D, a board member with the Dayton Autism Society. “You need to be reasonable with your request and ensure you are able to commit to being a partner to the provider of services.”

Dauterman also suggests doing the following:

  • Know the strengths and weaknesses of your child. Be willing to share those with the schools, providers and anyone else who is working with your child.
  • Be honest about the ways in which your child can work. Trust those who are working with them. In other words, be a team player by supporting their efforts to build the skills your child will need to be functional in life.
  • Communicate clearly what you expect, and be calm and direct.
  • Be an active listener. Restate information for clarity, and put things in writing.
  • Focusing on solutions. Remaining positive will lead to better outcomes and higher success for both you and your child.
  • Seek out a parent mentor or advocate to sit in meetings with you. As a parent, it is only human for you to become emotional when decisions are being made about your child and their educational future. Having someone who can be there as your support allows for a neutral set of eyes and ears to ensure that what is discussed is understandable and meets the needs of your child. This is especially important to families where English is not their first language.
  • If your child is able, allow them to provide their thoughts and ideas. Giving them a voice builds their confidence and their willingness to also participate.

Find the Right Resources

In addition to advocating for your child’s health, you’ll also want to learn how to gain access to vital resources within the local community.

“One of the best ways to access resources is to use the various social media platforms to connect with organizations around your area,” Dauterman says. “Attend events geared toward your area of need so that you can network and learn about what is available. Talk with other parents at school, church, work and other areas where you may congregate.”

Advocate for Education 

Dauterman says that the best way to ensure inclusive education is to know and understand the IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) process of your school district, and what supports are available to help your child learn and grow.  

“Take the time to read the IEP, ask questions, visit the classroom, and build a relationship with your school so that you all work as a team,” Dauterman says. “Be realistic with your goals for your child, and speak up if you disagree or are unsure of something. Don’t sit in silence and feel defeated by the process. Bring ideas to the table if you know it will benefit your child.”   

Know You’re Not Alone 

It is important for families of children with autism to know that they are not alone.  

“In the midst of everything, it is easy to feel isolated and as if your voice is not being heard, but know that there are others out there ready to be your cheerleader and guide,” Dauterman says. “Reach out to your local Autism Society and attend their events so that you can begin to build your ‘village’ of supporters who can offer you advice and words of wisdom along the way. Stay informed on the latest research, do not be afraid to seek out services, and never stop advocating for your child.”  

Advocating for your child might sometimes feel like a daunting task. Fortunately, it is a road you do not have to walk alone. There are other parents who are on similar journeys who you can connect with, medical professionals who want to see your child succeed, and organizations designed to help parents manage the challenges they can face when advocating for their child with disabilities.  

We want our children to succeed, and it’s encouraging to know there are so many others that want the same, and are there to offer help, support and guidance. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and to stand up for the things you know are right. You know your child and you know what they need best. Trust your gut and move forward in confidence knowing that you are the best advocate for your child and their rights, education, inclusion and health will always be worth standing up for.  

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