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Ask a Self-Advocate: How did you self-advocate in college?

This post is part of MAC’s “Ask a Self-Advocate” blog series. This series was written by “JOSO*,” MAC’s 2017-2018 Young Adult Leaders Fellow, who is an autistic young man. The Young Adult Leaders Fellowship provides an opportunity for young adults aged 18-26 with intellectual disabilities and/or autism to learn the professional skills needed to advocate on behalf of other youth with disabilities. “Ask a Self-Advocate” was JOSO’s final project for the Fellowship and includes 13 posts published through the end of the year.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

My suggestions are based on my own experience. I realize that what worked for me may not work for everyone else.

Disclosing my disability and requesting accommodations

Self-advocacy skills have been helpful for me because they allowed me to disclose my disability and ask for reasonable accommodations at Tufts.

I was told that I had to be the one to make the final decision as to where I wanted to go to college. I was told that I would have to advocate on my own behalf at Tufts to get accommodations. My mom was not allowed to talk to my professors. I meet weekly with the student support counselor, who helps me figure out what to say to my professors.

At Tufts University, I immediately registered with Student Accessibly Services (SAS) and meet weekly with a student support counselor. I pick my classes based on my graduation requirements, my interests, and the professors’ reputation of being understanding and accommodating. I meet with my professors during their office hours or by appointment to give them my accommodation letters and to explain my disability, my needs, my strengths, and my weaknesses. I also meet with them when I have questions about the course material or an assignment.

Speaking up for myself: Spanish class

The best example of when I was able to advocate for myself was in Spanish class. Tufts requires students to take at least three semesters of a foreign language, so I decided to take three semesters of Spanish with each level getting more challenging than the last.

When I met with my student support counselor at SAS, I told her that I was having trouble in Spanish class and she helped me get a Spanish tutor each semester. The second Spanish class had a recitation component in which students were required to attend a non-lecture class and practice having Spanish conversations with each other. I had a lot of difficulty with Spanish recitation because it did not have a syllabus and it is hard for me to have conversations with people whether in English or Spanish.

When I met with my professor and told her about my concerns, she said that I could practice Spanish conversations with her during her office hours instead of going to recitation. This alternate approach to practicing speaking in Spanish worked better for me.

The last Spanish class was the hardest because the first two were elementary level courses, but this one was intermediate. I met with my academic dean and explained to her that I thought I should take this class pass/fail instead of for a grade. My reasons were that this class was built upon the recitation that I opted out of, I was only taking the class because it was required, and the class did not count toward my major. My dean agreed to my request and I was able to take the class pass/fail, which eased my stress.

In my next blog, I will talk about how I advocated for myself at work (MAC).

Click here to read the other posts in this series.