Areva Martin: Being a mom of three children (one of whom has autism), a busy attorney, a wife and a nonprofit leader has many joys and challenges.
After my youngest child, Marty, was diagnosed with autism eight years ago, I quickly learned that I had to make room for a new role: advocate. My "mom" and "friend" duties were at times morphed by my obligation to take action and speak up for my son, who was completely nonverbal until age 4. In the early days of his diagnosis, I didn't label what I was doing, nor did I think of it in any grand way. All I knew was that my son needed extra assistance at school, special medical and nonmedical therapies and help with almost every aspect of his daily routine, from brushing his teeth to tying his shoes.
I later learned that my actions -- attending IEP meetings, developing his therapy schedule, talking to other parents who had special needs children and reading every book on autism that I could find -- were those of an advocate. I can now confidently state that advocacy makes a difference, whether on the grand stage of sweeping social change or in the everyday life of a single child. Accepting that your child has autism takes courage and a strong dose of faith -- the ability to believe that a 4-year-old boy who is completely nonverbal will one day learn to communicate.
Becoming an advocate will never change the condition, but it can utterly change your perspective and that of everyone you come in contact with. As you gradually release the dreams you had for your child before the diagnosis, you will move through the difficult stages of grief toward the calm of acceptance. Then you will be ready to take on the new role that this diagnosis asks of you. Learning how to advocate for my son has been the biggest challenge of my life. But now Marty is 11 years old.
As a result of standing up for my own child (and standing up for the children of my clients), I know exactly what it takes: persistence, information, organization, balance and fearless determination. If I can move from anguish to advocacy, so can you. The seven principles of advocacy outlined in my new book, "The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand Up for Your Child with Autism," provide you with the tools you need to get services from school districts, medical doctors, state and local agencies and nonprofit organizations which work on behalf of children with special needs. It also provides resources, websites and invaluable information on your (and your child's) legal rights.
Advocacy is a lifelong pursuit. "The Everyday Advocate" will help you advocate today, tomorrow and forever.