What Does It Mean to Advocate For Yourself?

A microphone in focus with an auditorium in the background, out of focusBefore I started giving speeches across the country about autism, I had no idea what “advocating” meant. The years went on but the idea never fully clicked. But that all changed with a single question.

“My daughter is being picked on and bullied in school. What would you say she could do?”

The question came from a mother during a question-and-answer segment of a presentation I was giving at a university. The daughter was with her, so I turned my vision towards her and took a breath and all of a sudden the concept of advocating made sense.

“School was rough for me, but I never was truly bullied that I know of but I have had situations where I felt belittled and mocked. This isn’t to diminish your challenge now but you’re seeing me up here on this stage today advocating. I may have spoken to tens of thousands but that isn’t the goal here. I’ve had instances where a one-on-one conversation made a drastic change and that’s the goal. My job title may be Autism Ambassador but really anyone and everyone can be one. Your story isn’t my story and my story isn’t yours and that’s what the world needs to know about the autism spectrum.

“To those that bully you all I can say is try and advocate for yourself. Make the attempt to explain to them who you are and why you are. Will it work every time? I’d be telling a lie if I told you it would, but here’s the thing; if you reach one person (yes, if you reach just one person) then maybe that one person reaches another that reaches another and what all this means is that you changed the world! Again, some people aren’t going to listen, some won’t care, and should this happen you’ll have to try again down the line but don’t lose hope. I believe that most people are good and want to learn and you have the power to do exactly what I’m doing today.”

My voice was quivering when I finished that answer because I realized that what I said wasn’t just a filler answer but the honest truth. Anyone and everyone has the ability to change the world and it doesn’t matter if it’s to an entire student body or to one fellow student.

Later on, the woman found my Facebook page and mentioned that the bully in question apologized to her daughter and was now sticking up for her!

This is the mission, this is the goal, and whether you’re a public speaker, a blogger, a parent, a student, or anyone that has any slight affiliation to the autism spectrum you have the ability to change the world. Truly, you do and if we want to get to the world where there is full awareness and more importantly understanding of the autism spectrum it’s going to take us all to advocate, to educate, and to generate the thoughts in others that will make more stories like that of the daughter that was in my audience.

We’re in this together and as I told that girl in my audience we won’t always have someone that will listen, but it only takes one for us to change the world.

Aaron Likens on a sailboatAaron Likens, author of Finding Kansas: Decoding the enigma of Asperger’s Syndrome, and the National Autism Ambassador for Easterseals, has spoken to over 80,000 people at over 900 presentations and has given to the world a revelation of how the Autism Spectrum Disorder mind works. His willingness to expose his inner most thoughts and feelings has unveiled the mystery the Asperger’s mind. Join him on his journey from hopelessness to hope.

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