The Hiram G. Andres Center near Johnstown, PA, USA
Adulting, Bullying, Dignity & Respect, Employment, Equality, Independence

Adulting: Advocacy

In gaining my skills to regroup for the next chapter in my life, I have made the decision to do a blog series on Adulting. The twelfth installment is about properly advocating for what one needs.

For this weeks adulting post I have decided to write about advocacy. Part of my job is advocacy, and I believe in many things, Autism rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and yes feeding hunger and knowledge are just a few of my principal things I advocate for on my own. Being an advocate in the autism world isn’t always easy, and it has taken many failed attempts and many times of having to accept an answer that I didn’t want to hear. As many autistics, we are always told that we don’t like it when we “don’t get our way” and that may be true that we don’t like it but how we react to it speaks volumes.

I was taught the skill of advocating for myself at a young age. Maybe it was my mother at a young age saying I didn’t need to go to school at the horse stable at the monastery because, I “CAN” thrive, I just need more time. Later, as I saw in life that she fought that I, like Forrest Gump’s mother had the same schooling as everyone else. Now, because of my emotional disturbances at the time, I didn’t always show the best appreciation towards her and she didn’t expect it. She (and my dad) just wanted to see I had a fair shake in school (and life) by getting what I needed.  

This week, twenty years ago, I was being discharged my last psychiatric hospitalization and instead of going home, I was going to a Residential Treatment Facility that my mother advocated for me to attend instead of the managed care’s offer of placing me either out of state or across state. I can’t imagine why, especially after coming off years before of being disrespectful and lashing out towards her because of my disturbances. But in the end, they both wanted me to be in their lives again rather than have me institutionalized. Months before at like the 10th IEP meeting of the year, my mom had her “village” in the small conference room to advocate for my return after a three days suspension because of having a profane laced outburst in class. Later that day, the school district had the audacity to call my mom at home to suggest that the meeting with the amount of parties at the meeting was “counterproductive”. This is where I heard my mom’s and now my advocacy skills come to play to say she did what she had to by getting her village together to get what Dustin needed to end the school term successful. Unfortunately, it was the beginning of the summer of torment where I would even spend my Birthday in the Hospital, but I have made amends that all the treatment was for the best, something that took a long time to let go of the resentment towards my parents for doing.

But they were setting me up to live my destiny, in that year of being placed in residential, I would have the opportunity to attend a high school four times the size of the previous school I attended. When I got discharged from the residential facility, the superintendent of the home school district, because of proximity gave me the option to attend that school for the remainder of the school term. This was in part because of my parents advocating for that (and other things at the next school.) A principal at that school said “If we can provide Dustin with everything he needs here, there’s no reason they can’t”)

That was absolutely the truth. I flourished at High School, then Day Programming  and later residential technical school which my mother adversely defeated the critics who had reservations that I wouldn’t make it – I DID and I WAS A N Honor Student, and I was part of many things there.

Now getting on how to advocate. I have a supervisor at my day program as well as my therapist who say that if you want something and you have to address that need, do so in a calm cool collective voice and if someone is critical, don’t react harshly, because then it becomes a word battle. WORD CHOICE IS EVERYTHING, and it can make or break a discussion. My mother has taught me this also and I have seen this in practice when she was advocating in my needs when dealing with someone about my former residence a few months back and using those skills that she, my therapist and my program director has instilled in me makes me a good advocate. It’s being called assertive without being aggressive, because if you are aggressive in your actions, poise and tact, you will get just that, harsh return, thus returning in a shouting match.

Where I live and was raised is a very diverse area, with many old-school citizens and some things seem out of place to them. Many to be honest were not afforded a full education, which in many times results in poverty and then for them to advocate for what they or their family member needs can come across as a harsh or improper, thus turns into a heated or irregular response from officials that do not take them seriously and then see them with the stigma not as a person with a need that cannot be treated equally as the average parent or a fully educated parent. It’s not their fault, seriously, its nothing they did to be treated the way they are. It’s just the stigma of the uneducated or impoverished person and as we know impressions are everything (as I still have my dress shirt on from work today) they say a lot about a person along with details such as their demeanor and body language and so forth.

So when you go and advocate for what you are someone else want or need, remember to be appropriate, kind with words, and remember that you will may be criticized or denied your request, but in reality, it is how you as the advocate react and manage that answer or criticism how you continue that journey to the light at the end of the advocacy tunnel and have that need met.

Remember: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need!”

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