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How to Advocate for Yourself

The feeling of being in control of oneā€™s own life is one of the most basic yet most important forms of self-worth we have as people and an essential part of happiness. However, it is one of the most difficult aspects of being on the spectrum. The transition to adulthood is a fraught time for anyone, especially someone with social challenges. Teens, young adults, and even newly diagnosed older adults can feel helpless about how they fit into the world and what they can do about it. In a world of IEPs, doting parents, and professional caregivers, which are a blessing for todayā€™s children, adults on the spectrum have to learn to do as much as they can for themselves. In reality, that can potentially be a wonderful thing.

So how can you be a self-advocate?

  • First, start with your mindset. It can be tough to overcome the fears and anxieties about taking initiative, but it will help you succeed. Self-confidence can overcome many things. Believe in yourself.
  • Second, a great way to help deal with anxieties and build self-confidence is to join social groups. They can be spectrum focused or interest focused. If there is not a group in your area, you can always start one through a social media service like Meetup. We have a great adult-oriented Meetup in the Charlotte area and many exist elsewhere. The Autism Society of NC also holds quarterly meetups of adults on the spectrum around the state. This is a great way to socialize with like-minded people. It helps break down barriers and build your social network. The Autism Society of NC can help you start a group in your area or connect you with a group that already exists.
  • Third, identify key stakeholders in your life who can be resources in times of need. Do not wait until you have a need to look for people. Have them ready for when you need them. Doctors, caseworkers, spiritual advisors, and other caregivers who specialize in your needs are available to assist you, but you need to start to build a relationship with them now.
  • Fourth, think about the future. We tend to concentrate on the present. It is easy to feel like you are just going from one crisis to another or just managing to get by. No one lives in a vacuum. None of us will be the same 1, 5, or 10 years down the road as we are today. If you begin to think about a goal, a milestone, or a future activity that you would like to do, it will help you feel like you going somewhere and not just going. Share your goal with a stakeholder in yourself. Friends are a great resource to help you decide what is important in your life and what you might seek to accomplish. It can be something like moving into a new place, going back to school, or even getting married!
  • Fifth, think about choices. There is ALWAYS more than one way to do things. You should never accept something as is. No matter who you are in life, you have the ability to make decisions about yourself and your life. That is one of the best parts of living. The world is your horizon. Know your rights. Know your responsibilities. Know what resources are available to you. Do not be afraid to ask questions and seek advice. Very few things in life are easy, nor should they be. Some of the best highs come from making it happen.

This is but a simplified view of the complex topic of self-advocacy. The most important thing to remember is that the best resource that you have is YOURSELF.

Craig Seman is the general manager of the Cadillac Craft Center, a third-generation business that reproduces and restores parts and equipment for the automobile industry. Mr. Seman holds a BSBA in Economics from UNC-Chapel Hill and an MBA from UNC-Charlotte. An alumnus of both the Charlotte and Chapel Hill TEACCH programs, Mr. Seman has been active in the spectrum community as a program coordinator, Meetup organizer, and host of numerous events in the Charlotte area centering on outreach to young adults. Mr. Seman has also held leadership positions in numerous civic and community organizations and joined the ASNC board in 2018. Mr. Seman lives in Charlotte and has family members both on the spectrum and as professionals serving the community.

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