Throughout elementary and secondary school, parents are very involved in their child’s learning process. However, as their child gets older, that changes. Consequently, it is important for children with learning differences to understand their rights along with their strengths and limitations. It’s best if they learn self-advocacy early in life in preparation for entering college or the workplace later.
What is Self-Advocacy?
Self-advocacy is the ability to identify a goal AND communicate what you need to overcome any challenges you may have in achieving it.
For example, let’s say that your child suffers from an auditory processing disorder and is required to take notes during a college lecture. Self-advocacy allows him to communicate to his instructor the nature of the issue and what he will need to overcome it. Specifically, he may request transcripts of the lectures or the ability to record the session for playback later in a quiet environment.
Characteristics of Self-Advocacy
The ability to speak up on one’s behalf is something that everyone can benefit from, but it is particularly important for those with learning differences. However, a child’s ability to communicate requires several skills.
● The ability to tell the difference between a “want” and a “need.”
● Knowing which option to choose based on the possible outcomes.
● The ability to initiate and take action when needed.
● Knowing how to employ executive functioning skills.
● A striving for independence but recognizing when help is needed.
● Self-evaluation skills.
● Ability to negotiate and compromise to reach goals.
How Self-Advocacy Improves Academic Performance
Without a doubt, your child will do better in school if they get the assistance they need to overcome their learning differences. Self-advocacy not only gets them that support they need for academic learning, but it also teaches them to look out for their own interests. This move towards independence benefits them as they draw closer to adulthood.
Achieving independence can make a big difference in your child’s future success. Instead of feeling dependent on others, he can feel empowered to meet challenges and succeed.
How Do You Teach Self-Advocacy?
Self-advocacy occurs after your child first answers some questions. If you help your child learn the right questions to ask, then you can help them determine what they need to accomplish their goal. Once they know that answer, then they need the confidence to communicate it properly.
There are five basic questions your child needs to know how to answer.
1. WHAT does he need to accomplish his goal? This could be something as simple as clarification of instructions or it might be special classroom aids.
2. WHO can help him get what he needs? Try to encourage them to consider the source. Always look for the closest and most accessible solution. For instance, can a fellow student clarify the instructions if the instructor is not available?
3. WHEN is the best time to approach someone for help? For example, they should know not to interrupt an instructor or try to have a lengthy discussion with someone who is late for an appointment. Teach them to ask when it is best to have a discussion and how to make an appointment.
4. WHERE should they meet to discuss any special learning circumstances. Is it appropriate for the classroom or would it be better discussed in private?
5. HOW a student expresses themselves often leads to self-advocacy success or failure. They should understand how much background to share and with whom. They should also know how to communicate their needs clearly and politely.
We encourage parents to start the self-advocacy process with their children early. Start by talking through situations and helping them to see the WHAT, WHO, WHEN, WHERE, and HOW. As they get older, their role as self-advocate should increase, and yours should decrease.
By the time they reach High School and are ready to transition to college, they should be comfortable with self-advocacy. Working with an academic coach they can often overcome their learning differences. New Frontiers in Learning pairs students with Academic Coaches that can help them make that transition to college with success.
New Frontiers in Learning