As parents, we are the first advocate for our children in every area. Our advocacy is especially vital to helping our students, with learning and attention issues, succeed at school. Many parents exhaust themselves with their dedication to ensuring their children get appropriate accommodations or specialized instruction. Ultimately, our goal should be to transition our children into advocating for themselves. We need to teach them self-advocacy skills.
What exactly is self-advocacy?
Self-advocacy is a skill that allows an individual to speak on his own behalf. He understands his own strengths and weaknesses, and determines how his needs can be met. A student knows what accommodations benefit him and how to ask for the appropriate support. Even something, as simple as asking for directions to be restated, is an act of self-advocacy, if listening and following directions is an area of weakness for that student. A self-advocate can problem solve, make his own choices, and communicate these things to other people.
How can we teach self-advocacy skills?
We need to take on the role of self-advocacy coach. It starts with conversation— chat about it all! Talk to your child about his particular learning and attention issues and help him identify his strengths and weaknesses. Remind him to use classroom accommodations that are available to him. Teach him how to problem solve, so he has the chance to handle problems on his own, before you step in. Share with him that asking for help is a good thing and praise every effort he makes for speaking on his own behalf. Role play various situations, to model appropriate interactions and provide the chance for him to gain practice. Find a mentor for your child, who can also support him in building his self-advocacy skills.
My son’s ADHD impacts his executive function skills at school, and our family’s goal during the past few years has been to assist him in developing self-advocacy skills. At sixteen, this is a critical skill to his future success. We coach him and provide opportunities for role playing to increase his problem solving skills. We have shifted the responsibility of contacting teachers, when questions arise about assignments, from ourselves to him. He participated in his own 504 Plan meeting during the last school year. In preparation for the new school year, we have had several conversations about creating routines, and how he can reach out to his teachers about using his accommodations. We will continue to support him in fostering his self-advocacy skills, which will provide him many benefits.
What are the benefits of self-advocacy?
Students who can advocate for themselves benefit in a number of ways. They feel empowered, develop independence and learn self determination skills. Because students create a sense of ownership over learning, they increase their self-confidence. They possess the knowledge they need to participate in the educational decision making process. As students journey into adulthood, these qualities positively impact all areas of their lives!
Written by: Elizabeth Hipwell, M.Ed.
Certified Barton Reading & Spelling Tutor