Self-Advocacy, Autism, and the Social Curriculum

I read a post over on Autism Learning Felt about an interview with Dan Burns (author of Saving Ben) and felt inspired by a line in the article about self advocacy. QUICK DISCLAIMER: I have not read Saving Ben, nor met Ben, so I cannot recommend or dis-recommend the book. Burns’ son, Ben, is 22 and has ‘aged out’ of school and government community supports. Burns writes in the interview about his wish that he, and by proxy, Ben had depended less on the school system, and focused more self-reliance and self-advocacy. I couldn’t agree more!

My definition of self-advocacy: a skill-set encompassing knowing what you want, communicating what you want, planning for yourself, and refusing things you don’t want. If kids (with and without autism) want to be able to make choices about their adulthood, they have to know how to do these things. In fact, these skills are part of the ‘hidden curriculum’ aka the ‘social curriculum’ of high school!

So, is it a mystery that kids with autism miss the hint on these highly-valued, but rarely explained skills? No.

It might be nice if schools taught these skills, but they don’t. Plus, kids are only in school for about 35 hours a week and they are at home for 133 hours per week. So it’s on us!

How we can learn to be better self-advocates? How can we break a skill like ‘knowing what you want’ into bite-size, practice-able bits?

The same way we teach everything else! Explain it, write about it, cartoon about it, talk about it, praise it, model it and narrate, and most of all, don’t give up on someone just because they ‘age out’ of school. Do neurotypical people stop learning stuff after high school? I sure hope not.


  1. Jon Pear (a.k.a. NeuroAster) December 29, 2009 10:22 pm  Reply

    You have just explained Self-Advocacy better and more concisely than Wikipedia Dot Org did #smilesandhugs

  2. Tammy December 30, 2009 11:30 am  Reply

    I agree. We never stop teaching and our children never stop learning.

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