In my last column, I said I was preparing to give a speech at a meeting of a local special education group about my life with autism in order to advocate for other people with autism and other special needs in my community. I have since begun gathering my thoughts, and I am working toward making the best 20-minute speech that I can. I feel incredibly nervous about this because this is the first time I will be speaking at considerable length about my personal life in front of an audience. For me, this isn’t the same thing as writing about my life for this column or for my blog; what I write here is basically small snapshots of specific parts of my life. I am going to have to address a large portion of my life and experiences in one speech, and while I have a rough outline of how I want to organize the material, doing so is a bit intimidating for me. I read something recently, though, which has caused me to think of this project in a new light. I now think this is a chance for me to learn how to not just advocate for others but to advocate for myself as well, an endeavor which has largely been taken up by my parents my whole life.
I logged on to the Autism After 16 website not too long ago, and I came across a column written by the mother of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome almost a year ago. I found myself focusing intently on the section where she wrote about her son taking on more college classes than he probably should have. She surmised that if he had mentioned his condition to his advisor, he could have arranged for a more accommodating number of classes and would not have become potentially overburdened. She said that her son was afraid of what people would think of him if they knew he had Asperger’s.
As I read this, I remembered that when I went with my mother to see an advisor about scheduling my upcoming college classes, my mother was the one who mentioned my autism and helped me to figure out what classes might best serve me and my interests. In fact, there have been many instances when my parents have represented me in discussions because my autism would have made doing my own negotiations difficult. With them on my side, my concerns and needs were properly addressed so I could get the opportunities and resources I needed to excel. After reading the article, I now recognize, however, that I will need to represent myself when I “leave the nest” and see to my own affairs more independently. The student in the column I read had not self-advocated on his own behalf which produced less desirable results. I am at a point in my life where I need to learn how to self-advocate for my own benefit, and with my parents’ help, I know I will succeed in finding my own style of personal advocacy. I have learned how to do a lot of things on my own. The content for this column, my blog, and the other material I have written professionally along with the many life skills that I have mastered are proof of that. Although I have learned to do all these things and more, I see now that the speech I will deliver at the special education group meeting will be one of the most important things I will have ever done for myself and others on my own. It will be the culmination of a whole life of others standing up for me.