Self-Advocacy refers to an individual’s ability to effectively communicate, convey, negotiate or assert his or her own interests, desires, needs, and rights. It involves making informed decisions and taking responsibility for those decisions. (VanReusen et al., 1994)
Below are ten tips to help build self-advocacy skills:
1. Role Play at Home;
Before you go out into the world try role playing various situations at home in a comfortable environment.
2. Help them learn to problem solve;
Use everyday situations to teach problem solving. You can start with basic life skills such as brushing your teeth or making your bed. What would you do if you ran out of toothpaste? How do you get the covers straight on the bed in the morning? Build up from smaller tasks and smaller problems.
3. Have them learn about their disability and their rights;
Start by calling your local chapter of a National Disability Organization (i.e. Autism Society, Autism Speaks, National Center for the Learning Disability, United Cerebral Palsy, etc.) These organizations should have the most up to date information. Also, use the internet!!!! Let that search engine be your friend. That might even be how you found this article in the first place.
4. Build up their Self-Esteem;
I have never met a child who didn’t have a million strengths. Make your child aware of these strengths and use their accomplishments to build up their self-esteem.
5. Find a Mentor;
Try to find a mentor for your child that has the same disability. Again, start by calling your local chapter of a National Disability Organization. The benefits of your child having a role model with the same disability can be tremendous.
6. Help them learn to communicate their needs, wants, strengths and weaknesses;
Every child is different. Make sure your child is aware of their needs and the best way to communicate them. Peter Bell from Autism Speaks recommends making cards that your child can hand out explaining who they are and their disability. This way they have a method to communicate even if they can’t verbalize it themselves. This might come in handy during very stressful situations especially with local police who might not know your child has a disability.
7. Go out into the real world;
Take them to the grocery store, the bank, the mall, the post office, etc and let them take the lead with you by their side. For instance, make them a small grocery list and help direct them through the steps of getting a cart, finding the items on the list, unloading the cart, paying for the groceries and loading the car. At first you can use a lot of direction to help and as they get more comfortable in the future you can reduce your support.
8. Help them learn Social Cues;
9. Let them be involved in the creation or even lead their Individualized Education Program (IEP); and
Student led IEP’s can be one of the first steps on the way to self-advocacy. It’s a great way to empower a child to take responsibility for their own life. Make sure the child is aware of the IEP structure and coach them through the process.
10. Stay Positive
Sometimes all your child needs to believe in themselves is to have their parents believe in them. Stay positive, stay strong!!