This summer I started a “Self-Advocate Communications Workshop” in my local area, and I’ve been blown away by the progress of the teens and adults with Down syndrome.
Honestly, I didn’t have many expectations for the workshop. I just wanted our local self-advocates to better represent themselves and the organization that supports them (MVDSA).
But watching our group of self-advocates rehearse for their role at our 15th Annual Buddy Walk literally brought happy tears to my eyes. I know it sounds cheesy, but they are really starting to act like self-advocates by communicating their wants and needs to people outside their family.
Our mantra for the workshop is “I Can!”
Many of our self-advocates started the workshop apprehensive to speak in front of strangers, to look someone in the eye, and tell others who they are and what they stand for. The “I Can!” mantra helped them put into words their goals for the Buddy Walk and life in general.
In our last workshop before the Buddy Walk our Theater Educator, Stephanie Radford (heavy on the “RAD”), brought in strangers to test the self-advocates’ new communications skills.
They’ve been working on:
- conversational skills
- non-verbal communication skills like eye contact and body language
- improv skills
- speech skills
The self-advocates have warmed up to us over the last three months, but we wondered how they would perform in front of complete strangers. We set up a practice advocacy table with games and brochures, like they’ll have at the real Buddy Walk.
The first interaction was a bit forced, but as the strangers started asking the self-advocates questions about their life everyone started smiling and having a good time. The self-advocates used what they’ve learned about eye contact and reciprocal conversations to engage these strangers they’ve never met. I was impressed! They know that people may have a harder time understanding them, but still they advocated for themselves and got the job done.
I can’t wait to see how they do September 16th at our Buddy Walk!
They’ll be the ambassadors of the Miami Valley Down Syndrome Association; running our advocacy table and introducing national, state, and local politicians to Buddy Walk attendees.