As parents and teachers, we all want our children to grow up to be independent thinkers and doers. For kids with autism, it can be challenging to build up their self-advocacy skills and foster independence.
However, with the right approach, all children can learn how to effectively advocate for their needs and navigate the world around them with confidence.
In this blog post, we will share eight practical strategies to help your child develop their self-advocacy skills and work towards greater independence.
Learning to communicate their needs, advocate for themselves, and make decisions independently helps children with autism be self-sufficient. It is a vital foundation for them to become self-reliant in the future.
Kids with autism often find it challenging to communicate effectively, but learning to advocate for themselves can significantly improve their communication and social skills. It helps them learn to express themselves clearly and confidently, making it easier to engage in social interactions that may be otherwise overwhelming.
Self-advocacy also helps kids with autism become more self-aware by comprehending their emotions, strengths, and challenges. Kids learn to recognize their limitations and areas they excel in, and they can strategize on how to address their weaknesses. It builds their sense of self-confidence to advocate for their needs and make decisions with clear communication.
Self-advocacy is empowering! It builds self-esteem by fostering independence, self-awareness, and confidence. When kids learn to self-advocate, they feel they have a voice in their own lives and can take ownership of their decisions. It instills in them the desire to seek out solutions and have their needs met.
Finally, teaching your kids self-advocacy and independence equips them with life-long skills that they will use throughout their lives.
Self-advocacy is essential in the workplace, academic settings, social interactions, and their personal lives. By developing self-advocacy skills from a young age, kids have an advantage as they navigate life beyond childhood.
Here are a few ways you can encourage independence and self-advocacy in your child with autism – or any other unique learning need, for that matter. These tips work for everyone!
As parents and teachers, we want to equip our children with the skills they need to navigate the world around them with confidence.
One of the best ways we can do this is to let your children make simple decisions. It may seem like a small thing, but giving our kids opportunities to make choices can go a long way in building their independence and self-esteem.
Start by choosing simple decisions that your child can easily make on their own. For example, let them pick out their clothes for the day or choose what they want to have for breakfast.
Also, give limited options. Providing your child with too many options can become overwhelming and even stressful. Instead, give them two to three choices and let them decide from there.
Be sure to set clear expectations. Before letting your child make a decision, be sure to set clear expectations. This can help avoid confusion or frustration later. For example, if you’re letting your child choose what to have for dinner, let them know that it needs to be a healthy and balanced meal.
When your child makes a decision, celebrate it! Let them know how proud you are of their independence, and encourage them to continue making choices on their own.
As your child becomes more comfortable making decisions, you can start to give them more significant choices. Encourage them to advocate for themselves in social situations or to take on more responsibilities at home or in the classroom.
For children with autism, sensory processing can be a challenge. They may have difficulty understanding and identifying their emotions, which can lead to frustration and meltdowns.
Teaching your child to listen to their body and label their emotions helps them develop self-awareness and emotional regulation skills.
When your child can identify their emotions and understand their triggers, they can communicate their needs with others and seek out the appropriate support they need.
Here are a few strategies you can try:
Children with autism often struggle with social communication and understanding social cues. This can lead to difficulties in social interactions and relationships, as well as increased stress and anxiety.
Without clear boundaries, children with autism may feel overwhelmed, confused, or uncertain about how to navigate social situations. Setting boundaries can provide clarity and structure, reducing stress and anxiety and helping your child feel more secure in social situations.
There are several ways to help your child learn to set appropriate boundaries:
Communication is essential in navigating social situations, making friends, and getting needs met, especially for kids with autism. Teach your child how to communicate with people of all ages, whether verbally or non-verbally.
Role-playing, again, is an excellent way to teach new communication skills. Encourage your child to ask for help, make requests, or express their feelings in a safe environment. You can also use visual cues like pictures or gestures to communicate.
One of the most effective ways to encourage independence for your child with autism is by using visual schedules. Visual schedules provide kids with a clear picture of what they need to do and when they need to do it.
They help these children feel more in control and less anxious. It’s important to involve your child in creating the schedule so they feel ownership over it. Try to keep the schedule consistent, so your child can anticipate what’s coming next.
Begin with easy money skills that your child has learned, such as recognizing different coins or simple bills like the $1 bill.
The idea is to start building a foundation of skills that will eventually lead to bigger and more meaningful financial milestones. The ultimate goal is to make your child comfortable with handling money in different situations.
For example, you can give them a small amount of money and let them purchase an item – this is an excellent opportunity to practice counting money and recognizing items in a store.
Visual aids such as picture cards or posters can be beneficial to teaching money management skills. Many individuals with autism are visual learners and need visuals to help them understand abstract or complex ideas.
Use digital photos of different denominations of money and photos of products, and make sure to include an activity checklist. The checklist is an excellent tool to keep them on track and mark their progress.
Encourage and set up opportunities to practice money skills in real situations whenever you can – like shopping or dining out. Real-life opportunities are much more effective and memorable than isolated teaching. Encourage positive money management skills by talking about the advantages of saving money and budgeting.
Practicing social skills is another essential part of teaching money skills. For example, teach your child how to politely ask sales associates for assistance if they cannot find their item. It is also important to teach them how to go through the process of paying for an item appropriately. Rehearsing manners will help your child become independent and comfortable in different social situations.
Starting with simple and achievable tasks is a great way to build a child’s confidence and enthusiasm.
Break household chores into small, achievable components, and set clear expectations and rewards. List the chores and attainable time frames, and encourage your child to track their progress. You might use a picture chart, a whiteboard, or an app to achieve this. Suppose your child is resistant at first.
In that case, you can break each task down further or provide additional training, guidance, or feedback until they feel confident and comfortable enough to handle it independently.
The idea of doing chores can be daunting for anyone, so make it a fun experience by being interactive and creative. You could make it into a game, with your child trying to beat their previous time or see how quickly they can complete the task.
Put on some music, sing, or dance while doing chores together. Involve everyone in the family, and praise your child’s achievements. Celebrate completed tasks by putting stickers on a chart or rewarding them with coins, tokens, or privileges.
On some occasions, let your child lead the way. Encourage them to suggest improvements in the work plan, break chores into smaller tasks, and evaluate progress. Empowering your child to make decisions and organize tasks will build their self-confidence and problem-solving skills.
Start with small, simple tasks that build confidence. For instance, you can start by teaching your child to brush their teeth or comb their hair before moving on to more complex tasks like cooking a meal or doing laundry.
By breaking down tasks into manageable steps, your child will become more comfortable with the routines, thus building essential life skills.
Remember that every child is unique, and their journey toward independence will be different.
However, with time, patience, and hard work, your child can learn how to advocate for themselves and participate in their community with confidence.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.