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I have always known I was different from others; ever since I was a little girl I knew that I had special needs. I knew that I went to therapy, I knew that I had a special education teacher at school who helped me, and I knew that some things were harder for me than they were for other people. I also knew that I had an IEP (Individual Education Plan). I have always been very self-aware, even when I was younger.

Autism Was Not an Unspoken Word
I remember going to doctors to get a diagnosis. My parents were always honest with me when talking about autism or any of my other special needs. Autism or special needs were never words that should not be spoken. I think the fact that none of my differences were hidden from me, resulted in me never thinking I was weird. In hindsight I think that this is one of the reasons that helped me to be so accepting of my differences.

Differences Caused Some Frustrations
Granted, even though I knew I was different, sometimes my differences caused me some frustrations. For example, when I was in elementary school,  I wished that a certain group of girls would play with me on the playground. I did not understand why it was so hard for me to approach these girls, to know what to say, and when to say it. Luckily, my teachers, therapists, school counselor, and parents were very helpful in teaching me social skills, and helping me make friends. But I really enjoyed spending time and playing with my friends who also had disabilities at recess. I was often not interested in playing or being friends with my “typical” peers. I feel that this is okay; I played with the kids that I was comfortable with, and I had fun doing it. Years later, these are still my friends who have been by my side and supporting me for more than ten years.

The Beginning of Self Advocacy
As I got older, I started attending my own IEPs. I first attended when I was in the fourth or fifth grade, and have continued to be involved in them. When I was in middle school I would sit and look at my old IEPs from  earlier years  and was amazed at how much progress I had made. When I was in middle school I began to learn how to self advocate for myself and my needs even more. If I needed a certain accommodation and it wasn’t offered to me, I had to ask for it. Sometimes this was not easy, but it was worth it.

Improving Self Advocacy by Improving Communication
When I was in the eighth grade I discovered that writing my thoughts and ideas was easier than speaking. I wondered why this was the case and was sometimes frustrated by the fact that I could explain how I felt or what I needed so well in writing, but struggled when speaking. I am so glad I discovered the fact that writing was easier for me, as it has been a great tool to me in the years since then. Once I started high school I was very good at self advocating for myself, for the most part.

The Birth of a Self Advocate!
In summer 2011, I experienced a situation where people who were supposed to understand me and autism did not seem to. They were not able to help me when I needed it most. Weeks after this experience, my therapist gave me an assignment to write about the things I wish people understood about me. This is the question that started it all! When I read my response to this question, I was quite amazed that I wrote them. This is what led me to the decision to become a self advocate, so that I could help teach others about autism from my perspective.

Then I began to become more interested in reading books about autism. I also began to connect with older adults with autism online. This helped me to realize that I was not alone and that life was not hopeless. After my negative experience in the summer 2011, I was starting to lose hope, but by talking with others who have autism I began to see that there was hope. I realized that I wanted to write and speak about autism. I began the journey to finding different opportunities to do this.

Tips for Parents and Teachers

  • Encourage your child or student to use their strengths.
  • Do not hide your child’s diagnosis from them.
  • Allow them to be involved in the IEP process.
  • If your child asks questions about their disability, answer them honestly.
  • Do not stop your child from learning more about their disability, if they desire to do so.
  • Make sure your child/student knows that they are not alone; you are there to help them along the way.
  • Provide your child with age appropriate books about their disability.  Some recommended books for kids are:

Sensory Processing Disorder

[easyazon-link asin=”1935567276″ locale=”us”]Ellie Bean the Drama Queen: A Children’s Book about Sensory Processing Disorder[/easyazon-link] by Jennie Harding

[easyazon-link asin=”1935567187″ locale=”us”]Squirmy Wormy: How I Learned to Help Myself[/easyazon-link] by Lynda Farrington Wilson

Autism/Asperger Syndrome

[easyazon-link asin=”1575423855″ locale=”us”]The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents)[/easyazon-link] by Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve

[easyazon-link asin=”0967251419″ locale=”us”]This Is Asperger Syndrome[/easyazon-link] by Elisa Gagnon and Brenda Smith Myles

and so many others!