An Introduction to Self-Advocacy & Self-determination Skills. What Are They and Why Are They So Important?

by Barb Cook M.Aut.(Edu), Dip.HSc.(Nut), Developmental Educator, Integrative Neurodivergent Nutritionist & Adult ADHD Coach

Neurodivergent people often experience challenges in exercising skills associated with self-determination and self-advocacy.

Self-determination and self-advocacy are pinnacle life skills that drives your success in education, employment, independence and within society. With the right supports, tools and strategies, you can develop a strong sense of self-determination, that builds your confidence in knowing how to advocate for your needs. 

When neurodivergent people gain these skills, it can be an empowering feeling. They will often feel their value and worth is being validated. They feel confident in speaking up and being able to ask for support and having their needs met. As a community, we can better assist the neurodivergent person by clearly knowing what they want and how we can assist them in getting their needs and supports met. And as a society, can actively work with them in having equal, and the right opportunities they deserve, just as every other person does.

What is Self-Advocacy?

Self-advocacy is speaking up about what you want. It’s about making sure that your wishes and needs are made clear to another person, and ensuring you have the same chances in life, the same rights, and are able to make the same choices as everyone else.

Self-advocacy is also a way to convey your thoughts and feelings. It means being able to ask for help when you need it, be willing to ask questions, and be open to learning new skills.

We self-advocate when we ask for support.

This can be a request for more clarification on a task or assignment we have to do, or conveying to the waiter in the restaurant that we are vegetarian or have certain food allergies.

Knowledge is the key to self-advocacy. Like anything, the more you know, the better you understand, and the easier it is to explain. Self-advocacy will help you convey what you want and to request that you be involved in all decisions that affect you. It is NOT giving the other person the answers they want to hear.

What is Self-Determination?

Self-determination emphasises the importance of providing you with opportunities to be in control of your own destiny, to fully participate in your own life and the community, and to be involved in decisions about your life.

Self-determination skills allow you to identify your strengths and challenges, and to be able to determine what you need to succeed. When we understand what our specific needs are, which is often recognised through self-awareness, we can formulate what we need and then convey to other people what we need to support us.

How do We Develop Self-advocacy and Self-Determination Skills?

Self-determination and self-advocacy skills aren’t learned quickly. It is a process that is often lifelong as we continually learn about ourselves and experience different things. With each new experience, we add to our toolbox of skills to be used in similar situations or to be adapted to other situations.

Ideally, we need to start learning self-advocacy and self-determination skills from an early age.

Parents and teachers need to teach and support children how to speak up for themselves. Often with neurodivergent children, parents will advocate on their behalf for their needs and supports. Essentially, this is a good thing, but we also need to include the individual and teach them the skills to be able to self-advocate for themselves. Parents and educators can model the skills to the children and encouraged them to ask your assistance without the fear of being judged.

When we learn these skills, it can make a significant impact through reducing our sense of powerlessness and dependency. And when we learn these skills and use them in educational and employment settings, it can encourage us to ask our peers and work colleagues for help, or feel confident in explaining why we need the extra help or information.

When we feel empowered in being able to advocate for ourselves, the feelings of fear and anxiety are reduced, allowing us to freely speak about our concerns, which in turn, builds on our self-confidence and value.

Working together as a community, as parents, partners, caregivers, health professionals, educators and employers, we can all be part of the process in guiding, building, and supporting neurodivergent people in attaining these essential skills, empowering them in determining a future that is directed by their visions, dreams and goals.

Barb Cook Girl Women Autism WorkshopAbout Barb Cook, M.Aut.(Ed), Dip.HSc.(Nut)

Developmental Educator, Integrative Nutritionist & Adult ADHD Coach

Barb Cook is a highly committed autistic advocate, writer, editor, and highly sought-after international speaker. She has made appearances on Australian radio and television, in newspapers and magazines, and in the SBS television documentary The Chameleons: Women with Autism.

Barb is a registered Developmental Educator, Adult ADHD Coach and Integrative Nutritionist, who is dedicated to improving the overall well-being and quality of life for neurodivergent people. Barb identifies a neurodivergent after being diagnosed mid-life (40) and after significant burnout in 2009 with autism, ADHD, and dyslexia.

Barb is internationally recognised for her bestselling book on autism in women, Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism with Dr Michelle Garnett, filling the gap in literature between lived experience of autistic women and the clinical knowledge. Barb’s recently released and second best-selling book co-authored with Yenn Purkis, The Autism and Neurodiversity Self-Advocacy Handbook: Developing Skills to Determine Your Own Future, is an essential guidebook that gives you the tools and strategies to advocate for yourself in any situation, developing your skills in standing up for yourself, your needs and wishes.

Barb is founder of Spectrum Women Magazine and is a prolific writer on autism, ADHD and neurodivergence.

Barb is founder of the Neurodiversity Hub in Gympie Queensland, a space providing allied health services for neurodivergent people, including one-on-one support, therapeutic groups, workshops and presentations and an informal space to meet.

Barb is a highly sought-after international speaker and presents on a variety of topics related to women, autism, ADHD and Neurodiversity. Barb spoke at the World Autism Organisation Congress 2018 in Houston Texas and 2019, and was invited by the United States government to keynote a special event “A Woman’s Voice: Understanding Autistic Needs” for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM) in Washington DC, USA.

Barb is a passionate motorcyclist, and enjoys riding the love of her life, Ron Strom Burgundy, a Suzuki VStrom DL1000, who assists her with good self-care and an effective anxiety reducing and depression busting practice.

Visit www.neurodiversityhub.com/barb-cook/ and www.barbcook.com.au to learn more about Barb Cook.

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