Valerie Paradiz is an author and advocate who developed a self-advocacy program for individuals on the autism spectrum. She is also the Executive Director of the Autistic Global Initiative of the Autism Research Institute, and is the parent of a young man with autism.
She was introduced to the world of autism when her son, Elijah, was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at a young age. Her book, Elijah’s Cup, describes her journey as a parent, and her movement towards becoming an advocate for neurodiversity.
She was not personally diagnosed until the age of 40, though she mentions having a shadow syndrome in Elijah’s Cup. When asked about her diagnosis, she says,
“. . . it was sort of a critical mass situation for me at the time. I was really struggling with employment issues, and I’m a single mom of someone on the spectrum – my son, Elijah. And I guess, really, that particularly prompted me to finally get evaluated. “
She goes on to say,
“. . . I learned a lot once the diagnosis happened: how to work very proactively with my own challenges and strengths, rather than reactively.”
She is also the author of The Integrated Self-Advocacy Curriculum: ISA®, a manual to help parents, teachers and support staff train individuals on the autism spectrum how to advocate for themselves. She says,
“Quite often, I think professionals are actually trained so well in their respective fields that they overlook the places where it’s best to step back and let someone advocate for something that they might require to feel more comfortable or integrated in an environment.”
The program trains students with autism to scan their environment for sensory triggers, and to let staff know what accommodations would help them be more comfortable. She says,
“I think you can teach sensory advocacy to very young people on the spectrum. I think they are quite aware of what causes them discomfort. With this scan, you can simplify it and focus on one sense, or expand it and cover all the sense systems in a single setting. Anyway, what we’re discovering in the research is how schools quite often are really tracking what they call ‘behaviors.’ I like to often call ‘behaviors’ an ineffective form of self-advocacy.”
She goes on to say,
“We’ve been tracking a student’s ability to scan and advocate for sensory accommodations and sensory needs against target behaviors, and we’ve seen a trend in many, many students, where the behaviors decline dramatically because they’ve learned how to scan and advocate for themselves.”
Her program also covers other areas of advocacy, including environmental, social needs, self-disclosure, and entitlements (understanding your rights under the law).
She has since expanded the curriculum into The Center for Integrated Self-Advocacy, an organization that provides online courses and certification in the ISA® curriculum. She also offers workshops, training, and consulting to schools, organizations, and workplaces dedicated to expanding opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum.
For more information, visit her website at http://www.autismselfadvocacy.com.