Civil rights and legal protections have been fought for and earned by both advocates and individuals with disabilities. Yet, despite the many legal protections and accommodations available, individuals with disabilities still face countless barriers and discriminatory practices when it comes to the day-to-day realities of life.
When it is an “invisible disability” like those with asperger’s, high-functioning autism, add/adhd or other learning disabilities, the barriers may also be invisible. This is especially true for individuals with average to above average IQs. The fact is that even many highly educated and well intended professionals do not understand the complex disparities that exist between an individual’s abilities and –their often difficult to define– disabilities.
There is a saying, “if you’ve met one person with autism you’ve met one person with autism…” There may be as many similarities as there are differences for individuals with autism, asperger’s, ADD/ADHD and other related disorders that fall on the “Spectrum.”
Helping teach individuals about their disability is an absolutely critical first step to helping them lead an empowered and meaningful life. While the notion of, “you can do anything if you put your mind to it,” is a nice sounding euphemism, it is neither true, practical nor helpful for most people, both with and without disabilities.
Individuals who understand their disability are better equipped to deal with or seek help in dealing with the difficulties they will surely encounter. The fact is that the greatest protective factor individuals with disabilities can have is not the law or their educational rights. It is to be self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses, to be self-directed and to have an ability to advocate for their needs and rights in both discrete and formal ways.
Teaching self-awareness can start as early as 5 years old. It is only a matter of time before children with disabilities start seeing that they are different from their peers. Without the proper support, children who suddenly realize that they are different from their peers frequently face significant emotional distress including depression, anxiety and increased social withdrawal.
Parents often report a variety of complex emotions when deciding to teach their child(ren) about their disability. Feelings often range from guilt to fear to anxiety. While the emotions may differ between individuals, they are all fundamentally rooted in the most primal and universal parental instinct – protection.
Eric has helped dozens of kids and teenagers in both individual and group settings become empowered, self-aware self-advocating individuals. Eric’s masters research thesis was entitled “Teaching children with learning disabilities self-awareness, self-determination and self-advocacy.” He has focused considerable clinical attention to this empowering concept both in groups and with individuals