What does the word “advocate” mean to you? To me, it means someone that stands up for something, whether for their own benefit, someone else’s, or both. In other words, they are letting others know what they need. However, especially when being an autism advocate is involved, it’s even harder as people in your life may not know you are a person with autism. So, how they can they help you if they don’t know?

Not sure where I’m going with this? Read on—I promise it will make more sense!

In a meeting one day at my old job, we were discussing who to bring on as a freelancer for a specific project. A coworker mentioned that there are three types of people who usually apply for jobs like this: 1) People who are completely qualified for the work (duh!); 2) People who aren’t qualified, and know they aren’t qualified, but decide to give it a shot anyway; and 3) People who think they’re qualified, but actually aren’t, because they don’t know what they don’t know.

I had never thought about that before, but once I did, I started to see parallels to my own life, especially my personal journey with autism. I am definitely person 1 in many areas of my life, and occasionally I am person 2, just deciding to give it a shot and learning along the way! But when I started to look at my life and think about why I constantly make mistakes, especially ones where it seems like I should’ve know better, things suddenly became clear: I am person 3.

So, now you may be wondering what that has to do with making mistakes, right? Fair question! Well, let me paint you a picture to see if that can clarify things.

Consider the following…

Picture the following: you’re at work (remotely or in person). Your boss or supervisor gives you a task to do. They explain what needs to get done, then asks you if you have any questions. You say no, thinking the task makes sense. You jump right in, getting everything done, and go to your boss to let them know you’re finished. “Uhh [insert your name here],” they say, “why didn’t you do X as part of this task? I thought you knew that had to get done as part of this project! Why didn’t you ask any questions if you didn’t understand?”

Dog with human hands and confused face

I didn’t know I was supposed to answer this thing too!

Completely confused, you fumble for an excuse that they’ll accept, apologize, and promise to do better next time. They hopefully walk away thinking it was just a mistake, although unsure how it happened. You walk away feeling horrible, not sure why you messed up when you thought you did great.

Has this ever happened to you? I can tell you it certainly has happened to me, multiple times! How? I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In other words, I wasn’t confused, didn’t think I needed clarification, so I didn’t ask any clarifying questions. Sounds frustrating, especially when it keeps happening, right? It sure is…

Making it better

So, is this just a case of history doomed to repeat itself no matter what? Well, unfortunately, sadly yes, to some extent. But, if you are willing to ask for accommodations at work, or if you are an advocate for someone with autism and can ask on their behalf, this frustrating scenario doesn’t need to happen!

One of the first and, often for me, the hardest things is to make sure that you are open about being a person with autism. If you have a job, make sure they know. If not, make sure everyone you’re living with knows. Why? Because from what I’ve found, if they don’t know, then they have no way of knowing that you might need accommodations. To reframe it, they don’t know what they don’t know either!

Once people know, it’s time for you, whether you are autistic or a caretaker, to take action and ask for what you need! This is the scary step, or at least it was for me, as communication is something I struggle with, but it’s IMPORTANT! If you let someone know what you need, more often than not, they are willing to help you out.

Becoming an autism advocate

So, Steph, this sounds great in theory, but how does it work in the real world? Glad you asked!

Going back to the picture I painted earlier, here’s how you can prevent that from happening in the first place! After you have told your boss (or family member, roommate, or whoever) about your autism, the next step is to tell them that there are some accommodations that would help you do your job to the best of your ability.

In the case of the scenario I described, I would say something like, “So, because of my autism, I struggle to read between the lines and infer things like other people can. It would be very helpful if you could explain the directions thoroughly, so I can make sure everything gets done.”

By doing this, you are advocating for yourself and your needs, helping to decrease the odds of you making a mistake simply because you didn’t know what you didn’t know. While it is hard to do at first, asking for these accommodations is important and will result in a win-win situation. You will be happier because you’ll get your job done with less stress and your boss will be happier because they’ll get what they need!

Wrapping it up

As a friend often says, people can’t read your mind. That works both ways, as in people can’t read your mind and you can’t read theirs. When you have an invisible disability like autism, it’s also a challenge in that employers, friends, family, or just the world in general doesn’t know that you might need extra help. So, it’s important to be an autism advocate for yourself and ask for what you need to make your life a little easier.

Once you do that, you’re no longer the person who doesn’t know what they don’t know. If the instructions were more specific, you could ask questions as needed and nothing would be left to inference or “you should have known.” You’re now empowered to do your best and reduce your stress.

As a self-described recovering people pleaser, I am the first to admit that being an autism advocate, standing up for yourself and your needs isn’t always easy. But, like most things in life, it does get easier the more you do it!

I’d love to hear what you are going to do to advocate for yourself, or what you have done already that has worked well! Thanks for reading, for visiting the blog, and for any comments or questions below! I hope you enjoy your time here!