Many see true empowerment in education coming from the attainment, effective use and development of knowledge rather than the simple transmission of information. Using this premise, empowerment means recognition of ability and achievement or attaining confidence and competence and thereby acquiring the expertise, judgment and responsibility for own actions and decisions, leading to greater autonomy.

Tough (2012) How Children Succeed argues that what matters more for a successful future than merely possessing well-developed cognitive skills is for all children and young people to have well-developed character skills, such as social acuity, self-confidence, perseverance, resilience, and stress-management, claiming that such skills are critical for developing a sense of agency and empowerment. For further reading click here.

  • Social acuity, understanding the actions and reasons behind actions of others and acting accordingly. Although difficult for children and young people with autism because of their difficulty with theory of mind, parents and educators can employ a variety of skills to support the individuals. For additional reading click on the following link.
  • Self-confidence, comes from feelings of well-being, acceptance of your body and mind and belief in your own ability, skills, and experience.
    Many children and young people with autism experience low levels of self-esteem as they unfavourably compare themselves to their peers group. As Parents and educators, we must employ a variety of strategies and resources to illustrate the range of skills already acquired and the opportunities available to the child or young person.

  • Perseverance, continued effort to do or achieve something
    Many children and young people can demonstrate the skill of perseverance if we utilise their reinforcers and motivators. This may call for us as parents and education professionals to be flexible and creative in our interactions with the child or young person and the way in which we present supportive strategies and interventions. As Ros Blackburn, who speaks extensively on how best to support the child or young person through development, refers to as, “A rip-roaring obsessions.”

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“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person, there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”

Chamberlain (1997) reports 15 qualities to be considered, whilst respecting individuality of the child or young person, his or her abilities, dreams, difficulties, personal circumstances and education setting, and from that specific skills to be taught and learned thus becoming part of the child or young person’s individual education plan or Student Centred Planning report.

This is quite an extensive list, not all aspects will be relevant to every child or young person with autism, due to a variety of reasons including cognitive ability, aspirations, motivation or interest, but it may all for focus from parents and educators as to where to start and develop their learning plan for the child or young person with autism.

  1. Having decision-making power.
  2. Having access to information and resources.
  3. Having a range of options from which to make choices (not just yes or no, either/or).
  4. Assertiveness.
  5. A feeling that the individual can make a difference (being hopeful).
  6. Learning to think critically; unlearning the conditioning; seeing things differently;
    • a) Learning to redefine who we are (speaking in our own voice).
    • b) Learning to redefine what we can do.
    • c) Learning to redefine our relationships to institutionalised power.
  7. Learning about and expressing anger.
  8. Not feeling alone; feeling part of a group.
  9. Understanding that people have rights.
  10. Effecting change in one’s life and one’s community.
  11. Learning skills (e.g., communication) that the individual defines as important.
  12. Changing others’ perceptions of one’s competency and capacity to act.
  13. Coming out of the closet.
  14. Growth and change that is never ending and self-initiated.
  15. Increasing one’s positive self-image and overcoming stigma. (p.44)

Zimmerman and Rappaport (1998) see empowerment as,

“a sense of personal competence and a desire for and willingness to take action.” (p. 746)

Furthermore, Zimmermann and Warschausky (1998) acknowledge, that empowerment must also address a belief that goals are attainable, with an awareness that certain factors may hinder or enhance efforts to achieve these desires and goals, with supportive strategies and actions that will allow for success.

As parents and educators of children and young people with autism, ultimately and collectively, we strive to ensure that each child or young person realises his or her potential, achieving his or her highest quality of life academically, emotionally, financially, socially and for some, spiritually.

To ensure this, the child or young person feels empowered, in control of his or her development and maturation, we must offer opportunities to learn and accrue additional skills. We must ensure that such targets are SMART goals as:

  1. Specific,
  2. Measurable,
  3. Attainable,
  4. Relevant and
  5. Timebound.

Smart Goal Setting

Beyond SMART Goals How to Build Better Results

As educators and parents, we must appreciate that self-knowledge is essential, that children and young people need to understand how and why they may feel different from others around them, and what it means.

Therefore, the onus may be to empower the children and young people, offering the chance to become self-reliant, to have their own tool box of effective and supportive strategies, is a process of guiding the child or young person to feel and believe that he or she can make a difference to him or herself, those who are part of his or her life and to the environment in which he or she lives. Some may refer to this as self-actualisation, the continuous desire to fulfil potentials, to “be all that you can be,” becoming the most complete, the fullest, “you”. Attwood, (2015).

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Buddy system or peer mentor