May 2018

Recently, a mom reached out to me asking about 504 plansand self-advocacy. Her daughter was struggling with when to ask for accommodations and when to be “like everybody else.” It’s a tough call for growing kids – they want to be like everyone else even if that means that sometimes they suffer silently. Here is a great article on this topic.  From that article, I found this definition: “Self-advocacy is a skill that allows kids to understand their strengths and weaknesses, know what they need to succeed and communicate that to other people.”

No doubt, when your child was a toddler you heard the infamous word “mine.”  What you probably thought is that the kid is not willing to share! But did you perhaps think that this is the first step in your child’s journey towards self-advocacy?

When do we parents of special children start to teach them about self-advocacy?  My answer is not soon enough.  Special children more than others, need to be able to assertively and comfortably ask for what they need.  And that can start as early as when they start to talk or gesture. Our kids will have to rely on the self-advocacy skills they learn early on for the rest of their lives.  

Here are a just few examples of when a special child will need to self-advocate in the classroom setting:

  • preferential seating
  • extended time on tests and assignments
  • reduced homework or classwork
  • verbal, visual, or technology aids
  • modified textbooks or audio-video materials
  • adjusted class schedules and/or grading
  • verbal testing
  • excused lateness, absence, or missed classwork

Sometimes kids need help figuring all that out, and in those situations the process starts with us – their parents. There are many things that we can do to assist them in their journey towards developing strong self-advocacy skills.  Here are some ideas:

  • Remind your child that asking for help is a good thing
  • Let your child have a say in educational decisions
  • Encourage your child to attend his or her IEP meetings
  • Consider putting in self-advocacy goals in the IEP

Despite our best efforts, sometimes our children need professional help in developing their self-advocacy skills. Don’t take this personally – the home environment is where kids feel protected and don’t want to do the things they must do in the real world.  If your child needs some nudging to find their voice, here are a few resources to help with the process:

  • School Case Manager. He or she sees a different version of our children.  The case manager can often assist with IEP goals to increase self-advocacy
  • Therapist. A therapist has experience with how to boost self-esteem and self-confidence which ultimately lead to good self-advocacy skills

So, when your toddler says “mine,” embrace them and encourage their journey towards self-advocacy!