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Thursday, January 25, 2024

Parental Autism Advocacy and Empowerment

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the policy advocacy by autistic peoplefamily members, and allies.

 Li, C., Cheung, W. C., Burke, M. M., Taylor, J. L., & DaWalt, L. S. (2024). Examining the associations among knowledge, empowerment, and advocacy among parents of transition-aged youth with autism. Autism, 0(0).   Lay abstract:

Parents of individuals with autism face many challenges in finding appropriate services and support for their children, and they also play an important role in advocating for their children’s rights and needs. Despite the increasing availability of advocacy programs, it is still uncertain how to best encourage parents to advocate for their children. This study explored the connection between parents’ knowledge and sense of empowerment, and how these factors relate to three types of advocacy activities (i.e. individual, peer, and systemic). The findings reveal that feeling empowered has a greater impact on advocacy than simply having knowledge. In addition, the study found that individual advocacy correlates to more peer advocacy, which also correlates to more systemic advocacy. These results can help researchers and professionals to better develop programs to increase parent advocacy and, in turn, help improve the lives of individuals with autism.

From the article:

Given this study’s findings, peer advocacy is an important intermediary step in bridging the gap between individual and systemic advocacy. Thus, more research about peer advocacy as a distinct construct and its relationship with individual and systemic advocacy is needed.

To that end, it is important to explore the nature of peer advocacy. In the United States, there has been an increasing emphasis on family navigator programs (e.g. Broder-Fingert et al., 2020; Burke et al., 2016; Feinberg et al., 2016; Magaña et al., 2017). Ultimately, the goal of these programs is to help access services. While family navigator programs are also becoming increasingly common, little is known about the attributes of the navigator that makes navigation effective. For example, some navigators are trained social workers in hospital settings (Feinberg et al., 2016) while other navigators are parents of children with disabilities (Magaña et al., 2017). Our study’s findings suggest that parents who are more empowered are likely to advocate for their peers (i.e. other families of individuals with disabilities). Thus, while not directly examining differences between navigators who are (and are not) family members of individuals with disabilities, our study suggests that peer advocacy may come more naturally to navigators with lived experiences as parents of individuals with disabilities. Furthermore, our study signals the importance of peer advocates especially when considering the need for systemic reform.