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Promoting Independence and Self-Advocacy


Important factors for developing independence include understanding one’s own strengths and challenges and being able to tell or show others what you can do, what you need or what you want. For students with ASD this can be difficult because of social or communication challenges.

The following tips can help ensure that the student you support will become as independent as possible:

Knowing his/her strengths

Find ways to help the student understand what he does well. Many students with ASD have special interests and the knowledge they have on selected topics can be quite amazing. Other students with ASD may have an ear for music, an exceptional memory, artistic abilities, or athletic skills. Let the student display his strengths and praise him in front of others. For students who are more challenged, consider creating a photo album with pictures of them engaged in favorite activities. One non-verbal 10 year old we know loved showing others pictures of himself roller blading, and his peers were suitably impressed.

Being independent

Use supports that allow the student to accomplish tasks independently. Activity schedules or detailed task lists can break down the steps of a job and allow the student to complete tasks without needing to depend on constant adult supervision or support. A handout on work systems from POPARD is available or you can watch our e-learning video on Work Basket Systems to learn more about this approach.

Asking for help

Teach the student to ask for help. Initiating communication can be difficult for many of our students and asking for help can be particularly challenging. When they need help they may feel significant stress and be unable to remember how, when and who to ask for help. They may have difficulty explaining what they don’t understand. As one student we know described it: “Everytime I hear the word “explain” I die a little inside.” Use visuals such as problem solving cards to cue the student to ask for help. Create a social narrative he can read on his own that lets him know that everyone needs help sometimes and that it’s okay to ask for help. Ask the student to show you where he’s having trouble rather than requiring him to explain. Reinforce the individual for asking for help.

Being part of the solution

Include the student in his I.E.P. meeting. In the book Ask and Tell: Self-Advocacy and Disclosure for People on the Autism Spectrum by Stephen Shore one author suggests that being included in one’s I.E.P. can build knowledge, skills and confidence. Our students do well when they understand that their ASD creates challenges that can be overcome with accommodations, adaptations and support.

We found great information on strategies for including students as young as 9 or 10 in their I.E.P. meeting at the IMDetermined website produced by the Virginia Department of Education’s Self Determination Project (http://www.imdetermined.org/). The site contains useful templates that can be used to help students set goals and identify the steps needed to attain their goal (free downloads).

We want all our students, including those with ASD, to meet their potential and to become as functionally independent as possible. By having high expectations and treating them as partners in the educational process, we can support them in achieving their goals.