Empowering the person with autism is at the core of all activities undertaken at AFA. Helping the person with autism understand the world around them, equipping them with means to communicate to the best of their abilities, helping them navigate social situations with success, leading them to independent and productive futures are all part of this process of empowerment. Equally important is the effort to help people with autism understand their rights, and be able to speak about their journeys, the triumphs and travails, and advocate for their rightful place in society.

Self-advocacy is possibly the most powerful form of advocacy. However, when one considers a condition like autism, the nature itself makes self-advocacy a daunting task. Gathering and organising one’s thoughts, being able to communicate the same in forums that necessitate understanding and coping with social rules can be extremely challenging for even a very able person with autism. That is probably why until a few years back, there were just a handful of autistic self-advocates across the world. The situation has changed in the recent past, where we have seen far more individuals with autism, primarily from the more developed nations, speak about their experiences and be vocal about their needs and rights.

In India and South Asia, self-advocacy amongst people with autism is still at a very nascent stage. Apart from the inherent difficulties that people with autism face to become self-advocates, the general stigma that our society attaches to disabilities is an added deterrent to self-advocacy which is often discouraged by families.

The various self-advocacy programmes run at AFA take into account all these factors and works around them to facilitate young people and adults with autism to become self-advocates. The programmes encourage active participation of the individuals, empower them as active citizens, make them aware of their role in creating their own future, and promote their equal rights and opportunities. The programmes also include helping families become comfortable about their children speaking about their autism. ‘Different...and proud of it’, the AFA mantra, is the belief that we hope to empower our self- advocates with as they give a ‘first person’ voice to a largely voiceless sector.