Tools to Self-Advocacy

Tools to Self-Advocacy

As kids get older and enter middle school and high school the information in their IEP are no longer left to just one or two adults. They may have 6, 8 ,15 adults at school that SHOULD know the ins and outs of their IEP but probably do not. So here are a few tips to help with self advocacy.

Identify their strengths

Your child will feel the power of self-advocacy if they can see the strengths within themselves. Sit down with your child and identify 6 to 10 things your child does exceptionally well. These strengths could be anything from singing, kindness, being a great friend, being a fantastic soccer player, being a gentle older sibling, being an excellent Lego builder, outstanding video game player, fast runner, excellent teeth brusher, being the best macaroni and cheese maker, being a confident speaker, and so many more. Once your child can see the fantastic human they are, it will give them the confidence to speak up for the things they need.

What are their areas of struggle?

After identifying strengths, consider areas of struggle; this will help you pinpoint what practice could be helpful when self-advocating. Ask your child some very pointed questions; what do you do when you have a question? How do you focus when the classroom is noisy? What if you need to use speech to text, but the computer can’t hear you because your neighbor is talking? What if you’re struggling to read the instructions on a worksheet or test? What if you know your IEP has an accommodation, but your teachers have forgotten to provide it?

Remember to stay positive when talking about these struggles with your student. Remember that struggles are an opportunity for growth, and addressing some of these areas may lead to positive outcomes. If your child becomes frustrated or overwhelmed, remind him of all of the incredible strengths that he possesses, likely due to his disability.

Once you’ve narrowed down a few areas you could target in the beginning, follow these tips:

  • Summarize your child’s accommodations on a CHEAT SHEET for him so he can easily access those tools that should be readily available.

Note: Some parents hesitate to talk to their children about their disabilities; remember, knowledge is power. If your child can understand their strengths and weaknesses, they will know where to focus their energy best to get the things they need.

  • Give your child language to use to practice asking for what they need.
    • It’s challenging to concentrate in this room. Could I do my work in the hall?
    • I have been working on this problem for five minutes; I don’t understand it. Could you show me how to do it?
    • Excuse me, but according to my IEP at a glance, I can use this accommodation if I need it. I would benefit from it now; could I please access it?
  • Invite your child to the IEP meeting. Not all children are ready for this, and this is a decision 100% to be made by the parents. But if your child is ready and you think their voice will be valued and respected, encourage them to attend at least in part to become comfortable in a setting where he speaks for his needs.

There are other ways to encourage your child to learn to speak up for him or herself. Think about daily life; where could your child use his own voice? Speaking up in public is an excellent opportunity for your child to grow while learning to stand on their own two feet, knowing that you’re there to support their success or struggles.

  • Ordering in a restaurant
  • setting up times with friends to get together
  • writing their own emails to their teachers when they have problems
  • when asked a question by an adult, allow them to answer
  • encourage them to create questions or follow-up questions when going to the doctor, a school meeting, or the store
  • allow them to problem-solve a situation and request assistance from other adults to solve that problem

Lastly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, when you get into middle school and high school, although the case manager will help navigate the IEP, the actual execution of these accommodations happens through the classroom teacher. Helping or encouraging your child to create a relationship with their classroom teacher will create a natural segue to requesting accommodations or additional support when they are not being provided. Teaching your child small kind phrases will help nurture that relationship. Little phrases like, “thank you for your time,” “I really appreciate your help,” or “I know that you care about me because you put in so much time helping me,” or “you are a great teacher” will strengthen that relationship and the level of appreciation the teacher has for your child.

If you want my free questions to ask a teacher before the IEP meeting to help get your child’s general education teacher more involved in the IEP process, please click the button below.