The link between self-understanding and self-advocacy

I can get very excited about the topic of self-advocacy.

I am supporting H in his journey, but as I support his learning there are a number of things I have been pondering…

Opportunities to develop self-understanding:

I think part of the work that needs to be done in supporting H in becoming an effective self-advocate is that he needs to be given opportunities to develop self-understanding. I am tireless in my efforts to help the world better understand a child like mine and be responsive to and understanding of his perspective, as someone who experiences the world differently.

More than this, though, he needs to understand himself and the way that he experiences and processes emotions …or sensory overload …or too much language …or a large crowd …or – well frankly – the list is long.

This goes beyond self-awareness, because to truly advocate for himself there are certain things he needs to be able to do:

he needs to understand how his needs might be different from others

and then be able to explain this to others

and feel justified and empowered to ask for or explain what it is he needs

This self-understanding also extends to areas of strength…

H needs to be supported in understanding his talents and abilities in order to have an accurate vision of himself in terms of what he has to offer. He needs the opportunity to see the value of certain traits that will be potentially very useful throughout his life.  For instance, his depth of knowledge in his multiple areas of intense interest are a definite asset. He needs feel confident to be able to share that he has a certain spacial wizardry, evidenced in his amazing ability see possibilities and to create new things out of old.

If he has a good understanding of his strengths then he will be better able to advocate for himself so that his is able to make the most of these, and so that he is able to create or take advantage of opportunities for himself.

This is so much to expect – a lot to expect… but not too much.

H has just turned 14 – and adulthood is closing in fast. This used to worry me in a nagging way, but now I have mostly abandoned my forward-looking-fear of the future. Instead I am embracing a vision of H as capable and able to make his way in the world. I am really excited by the possibilities I see for my awesome boy – and for his emerging advocacy skills.

I still don’t know where this amazing journey with my child will lead. It is impossible to know the future, but I am convinced that working to support H in developing his understanding and appreciation of himself and his ability to share that with others will help him to be fulfilled as he moves into adulthood.

Related Posts:
Welcoming Your Dissent: A Poem
Strengths, Stretches, and Autism: More Lessons from the Thrift-Shop
Yours, Mine and Ours: autism, self-advocacy, and setting limits
‘Dear Teacher: A letter from H’ …Listening to Autism 13-year-old Style


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2013)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
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6 Responses to The link between self-understanding and self-advocacy

  1. stefanie says:

    what dose self awearness mean


    • Leah Kelley says:

      My intent in this is to differentiate between self-awareness and self-understanding. For example, I see self-awareness as an awareness for H that he has sensory issues – or needs additional processing time in certain situations – or has an amazing visual/spacial ability. Self-understanding would be the ability to understand and appreciate how this impacts him so that he is able to advocate for himself around these strengths and challenges.


  2. You are such a strong mother and its clear that H is incredibly special and strong in his own ways. It is true that sometimes with Autism Spectrum Disorders it can be easy to see all of the darkness of the diagnosis and forget to see the amazing possibilities for people who have the ability and passion to learn every little thing about very very specific things. I’m sure your journey will have hills, valleys, and times of plateau skill building but with repetition and passion comes strength and victory and those are two things we tend to be very good at. 🙂 ThankYou for sharing this. I find myself learning about myself a lot these days and your blog sometimes opens doors in my mind to find a new skill to work on and above all you never fail to push the need to love yourself (in a healthy way). We all have obstacles in our lives but our lives cannot be defined by them, because if we do, we can’t grow. I will never be an NT and neither with H and for so many reasons it allows us to shine just a little bit in ways others might not. Stay amazing Leah. Stay just as you are. 🙂


  3. Pingback: Welcoming Dissent… Self-advocacy, the communication heirarchy, and rethinking tone | Thirty Days of Autism

  4. Pingback: Welcoming Dissent… Self-advocacy, the communication hierarchy, and rethinking tone | Thirty Days of Autism

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