Quite often, young people with disabilities need additional support with things that peers their age can do by themselves. This love and support that they receive should be given in a way that empowers them to be as independent as possible. It should be the kind that reaffirms their individuality, personal dignity, and agency. And this is where the idea of self-advocacy comes in.
What is Self-advocacy?
Self-advocacy is to feel empowered to make and express one’s life decisions and choices. It also refers to an individual’s ability to effectively communicate, convey their interests, desires, needs, and rights. Self-advocacy involves making informed decisions and taking responsibility for those decisions.
The goal of self-advocacy is for the individual to decide what they want and then developing and carrying out a plan to get it. It also means that they can seek and get help whenever they need or want it.
Why is Self-advocacy important?
Self-advocacy skills enable children to have more control over their lives and make decisions that they desire. It empowers a child to speak up for themselves and make sure they have a choice in whatever decision they want to make. Also, research has found that there is a clear link between teaching children self-advocacy skills and their ability to be happy, well-functioning adults.
Self-advocacy plays a crucial role in the development of a child, so as caregivers it is our responsibility to enable children to self-advocate!
So, how can you help children to learn to Self-advocate?
The primary step towards encouraging self-advocacy skills would be to include the child in their Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) process.
All students must be included in the IEP process to the best of their ability. Using simple language or pictures to help them understand their strengths and areas of need goes a long way in enabling them to be an active participant in the process.
It is never too early to include children in the meetings, even if it is just for a few minutes. Have the team members speak to or discuss with the student rather than the student.
Give children the freedom to make choices
From an early age, present your child with choices. For instance, when it is time for breakfast, you can ask them what would they like to have and give them options like oatmeal or toast. This enables them to be the decision-maker and enables them to be in control of their decisions.
Let children know that they have the right to say NO. This enables them to deny the requests that are unreasonable to them.
Teach Self-advocacy skills
It is essential for a child to know about their disability and how and when to disclose their needs to others. As a caregiver, ensure that you teach them all about their condition and how to disclose them when the need arises.
It is also imperative that they are encouraged to be part of groups and communities of neurodiverse youth. Such communities give them a chance to be themselves and exchange experiences. Being a part of such a community also helps to create a strong support system in addition to creating opportunities for healing and growth in the midst of peers.
Make use of a checklist to determine what skills a child already has and the skills they need to learn. This can help them to focus on a particular skill and develop it.
Encourage children to do activities that they can do on their own as independently as possible. This will also boost their self-confidence and enable them to be more participative in learning the activity.
It is never too late to start teaching your children about self-advocacy. Self-advocacy can enable your child to have the highest quality of life possible, even when you are not present to advocate on their behalf. One important point to be mindful about is that teaching self-advocacy takes time and the support of the community but it is achievable with constant practice and hard work.
How do you think self-advocacy can be taught? What are some of the ways in which you have promoted self-advocacy skills? We would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and stories in the comments below.