Autism Advocacy in Action
By The DCT Team
When most people look at Lauren, a speech pathologist providing therapy for young children, they might notice her kind voice, her patient energy, and her caring, brown eyes. But for one student, a student with autism spectrum disorder, Lauren stands out for another reason; the stars in her eyes...
So it Begins. Linda Barboa’s name can be followed up by an impressive list of roles and titles: Ph.D. in early childhood education, BS in speech and audiology, masters degree in speech-language pathology, author, teacher, director, just to name a few. Although extremely admirable on their own, these achievements pale in comparison to her most impressive accolade: Advocate.
Advocating for the autism community is something of which Dr. Barboa is proud. Her varied and unique background in the therapy field lends to her understanding, acceptance, and support of diverse populations. Providing therapy services in almost every possible setting (hospitals, schools, autism centers, reservations), to every possible age (birth to geriatric), across the United States and Europe helped Dr. Barboa develop an immense understanding of the needs of these populations, namely those with autism spectrum disorder. After serving as director of The Rivendale Center for Autism, Dr. Barboa became fully immersed in the community, seeking additional ways to continue to serve the population.
Her response to this call was to become an advocate for the autism community, which for Dr. Barboa means writing, speaking and/or acting on behalf of an interest, person, or group who is devalued.
Write. To know what the varied members of the autism community need, Dr. Barboa listens and responds with specialized texts addressing those specific needs. Co-authoring alongside Elizabeth Obrey and Jan Luck, Dr. Barboa writes various guides to help navigate the mazes of childhood autism. When medical offices needed an overview of autism, Dr. Barboa wrote The Nuts and Bolts of Autism. When bus drivers wanted to know how to properly work with students with autism spectrum disorder, she wrote Bus Driver Friendly Autism Manual. Dr. Barboa listened to students, churches, first responders, schools, business owners, and teachers.
In listening to teachers, she understood that her voice alone was not enough, so she collaborated with administrators, parents, students, special education professionals, and other teachers to write Stars in Her Eyes: Navigating the Maze of Childhood Autism. Inspired by the unique and beautiful perspective of those with autism spectrum disorder, Dr. Barboa titled her collection of voices after an experience with a young student commenting upon the images he saw that the rest of us are not always able to see: the stars in the eyes of his speech-language pathologist, Lauren.
After the positive reception of that text, she continued to listen and learned of new needs that needed addressing. Dr. Barboa continued to advocate by writing Tic Toc Autism Clock: A Guide to Your 24/7 Plan. While Stars in Her Eyes offered the community insight into caring for the child at the school, Tic Toc offers ways for parents to care for the student outside of school, bridging the care gap.
Speak. In addition to her many books, Dr. Barboa speaks on behalf of the autism community. Once again, she first listens to the needs and then speaks on behalf of those needs.
Dr. Barboa spends time speaking with community members, students, real estate agents, business owners, Wal-mart managers (nationwide), and more. She informs on the basics of autism spectrum disorder, sharing a simple equation to help others understand: C (Communication frustrations) + S (Sensory issues) = B (Behaviors of autism). By speaking to these groups and individuals, Dr. Barboa hopes to help people become more aware so that, during potential meltdowns or situations concerning an individual with autism, they can respond appropriately, delicately, and most importantly, respectfully.
Act. Although writing and speaking both require Dr. Barboa to do something, by acting on behalf of the autism community, she encourages others to do something alongside her. Dr. Barboa led an initiative within her community and through awareness and education, Battlefield became the first "Autism Friendly City" in Missouri.
By speaking with community members, writing guides, and acting, Dr. Barboa helped transform a city into an inclusive, safe, and respectful place for all citizens. She works with business owners and managers to understand the behaviors of those with autism; she helped the local Shoe Carnival designate a time and space for sensory friendly, quiet shopping experiences for those with autism. She helped local law first responders create a special needs registry in the 9-1-1 computer system. She worked with parks + rec to encourage autism-friendly playgrounds; she organizes a yearly "Autism Information Blast” for those interested in learning more about autism-friendly services.
Through these actions and more, an entire town feels empowered to act. As Dr. Barboa asserts, "knowledge is power.” She understands that people need to be educated in order to adequately act, and she stops at nothing to help others advocate.
The Stars in Her Eyes. Although the title of her book references another SLP, it is obvious Dr. Barboa has stars in her own eyes and continues to light up the lives of all those she encounters. The stars in Dr. Barboa's eyes are the ideas, plans and acts of inclusion, acceptance, respect and acknowledgment of all those who need an advocate. With every new book and every new speaking engagement, Dr. Barboa adds to her already impressive galaxy of awareness and understanding, making the lives of all she encounters that much brighter and that much more beautiful.
Finding Your Own Stars. In order to help others speak, write, and act on behalf of those with autism, Dr. Barboa co-founded STARS for Autism to encourage the initiatives listed above. To promote their mission of networking, collaborating, and promoting support efforts, training, awareness, respect, and service for individuals and families with autism, STARS for Autism provides necessary resources to those who are interested in becoming an advocate. Starting small and learning more about autism or purchasing a t-shirt is the perfect first step into advocacy. As Dr. Barboa quotes, "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow,” reminding future advocates that small acts lead to BIG changes.
If you are interested in therapy services for students with autism spectrum disorder or curious about working for DotCom Therapy, please contact us.