Students who know how to self-advocate independently with no prompting have an important skill that supports employment, further education, and independent living. Yet, few students actually are taught how to understand their needs and communicate those needs to others effectively.
In order for students to acquire these skills, parents need to begin early and build self-advocacy by encouraging independence and choice. Because self-advocacy is so important, you as the parent may want to take specific steps to help your child build this skill. Here are some ways to help your child develop self-advocacy:
- Talk to your child about their strengths and weaknesses.
- Have ongoing conversations about learning and attention issues.
- Remind your child that asking for help is a good thing.
- Praise your child’s efforts at speaking up.
- Encourage your child to use classroom accommodations.
- Find a role model, like a mentor with learning and attention issues, for your child.
- When a problem comes up, give your child a chance to solve it before stepping in.
- Let your child have a say in educational decisions.
If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), encourage them to attend IEP meetings. Consider adding self-advocacy goals to your child’s IEP, by developing an action plan where both your voice and your child’s voice is heard. Teach your child about legal rights and how to talk about them in a positive, constructive way.
As with any valuable skills, self-advocacy takes practice. Continue to role-play situations that may come up to help your child feel more comfortable about asking for help. You can also create an informational sheet that outlines the strengths and weaknesses of your child to give to the teacher. I will be speaking more about the importance of the informational sheet next week.
Self-advocacy isn’t easy for many kids. Shy children, for example, may need different support in learning how to self-advocate. Other children may feel awkward or even guilty about asking for help or for accommodation. That’s especially true if your child feels embarrassed about their learning or attention issues.
Teaching self-advocacy can be an important part of your own journey as a parent. Self-advocacy skills can help your child deal with current challenges and the ones that will arise in the future.