"Professionals," usually with the best of intentions, speak on behalf of persons with autism disorders. In many cases, persons with autism disorders do NOT need help speaking (or communicating in any form) and advocating for their needs and desires. Autism does NOT equal inability, nor are all people with autism alike. Many individuals with high-functioning autism (not all) prefer and CAN advocate for themselves.
Unsolicited advocacy is advocating for people withOUT written or verbal consent. Unsolicited advocacy stifles the desire for personal growth that many persons with autism disorders need and want. I neither have a desire nor need for a "professional" to "advocate" on my behalf.
The following are a list of strategies that professionals can use when assisting persons with autism (Autistic Disorder, PDD-NOS, or Asperger's Syndrome and at any functioning level) This list uses the term "autism" because I am a person with high functioning autism. (Some, if not all, of the strategies can be used for people with other developmental disabilities and mental illnesses.)
- Speak DIRECTLY to the person who has autism, not to a bystander.
- RESPECT PRIVACY! Do NOT, under ANY circumstance, speak to the autistic person's boss, medical professional, relative (close or distant), friend, or any other person without WRITTEN or VERBAL consent.
- Teach self-advocacy. People with autism are not hard to teach if you UNDERSTAND that ALL people with autism want to learn and are DIFFERENT. People with autism need opportunities for personal growth. Do NOT stifle these opportunities.
- Be concrete and literal (if applicable), and use whatever communication method the person with autism needs.
- Respect our TIME; it's too valuable. If you are a job coach or other professional visiting a person with autism at work, ask if he or she has TIME to talk. Do NOT just enter and start "chatting."
- Remember, that people with autism, like all people, were hired to DO a job. Many autistic people require more mental and physical energy and effort to complete work effectively and efficiently at criterion level.
- Don't question excessively at work. It's NOT the time or place to do so. Work, for any person, takes effort. People with autism need to focus harder than typical people. RESPECT that.
- If questions are unavoidable, either write them down (if the person can read) or say them. As a general rule, do NOT ask more than three.