“Self-advocacy is teaching other people how to treat us with dignity and respect. It is asking for what we deserve, and not accepting anything less” (Cook O’Toole, 2013)
Self-advocacy is something that we use on a daily basis to speak up for ourselves and our individual needs. While this ability may come easy to some, it is a complex skill that poses a particular challenge to children with communication difficulties. With school back in session, it is important that we shift our focus to the need for self-advocacy within the classroom. Rather than ask for help when a lesson is unclear, students may continue to struggle through an assignment. The following information outlines steps from a protocol developed by speech-language pathologists Bonnie Singer and Jennifer Mogensen that provides insight as to how we can strengthen confidence and comfortability with self-advocacy skills.
Before we can advocate for ourselves, we need to be able understand who we are as individuals. This means that we need to understand our strengths and weaknesses. To support our children in developing this skill, we can guide them in analyzing their personal qualities and talking them through how these attributes may impact them while at school. Which qualities positively impact their performance? Which qualities require additional supports? In understanding these characteristics, we can help our children problem solve the areas where self-advocacy is needed, as well as identify the barriers that are preventing them from doing so. More importantly, self-awareness exercises can help to boost our child’s overall self-esteem by bringing attention to their strengths and can also help to encourage the formation of a growth mindset by thinking of ways to overcome those skills that are more challenging.
After our child is more aware of their needs, we can begin to help them create objectives for themselves to achieve the overarching goal of actively self-advocating in the classroom. These goals may include something as simple as emailing their teacher for extra support or asking a peer a question about an assignment. It is important that we are allowing our children to take the lead in choosing which goals he/she wants to work on, as well as which goals he/she would like to target first. “Letting the child determine what to work on first is an important step in their willingness to tolerate the anxiety self-advocating will undoubtedly trigger” (Singer & Mogensen, 2021).
Problem Solving Options
Once we have guided our child into becoming more aware of their needs and have helped them establish goals for themselves, we can begin to brainstorm ways to accomplish those goals. By opening up this room for discussion, we can better prepare our children to manage challenging situations in real-time. This is the time to think of strategies that can be used to help our children reach their goals, as well as identify where the breakdown is occurring that is hindering them from speaking up for their needs. Is it a problem of comprehension? Anxiety of speaking in front of peers? In reflecting upon where the disconnect is occurring, we can guide our child into coming up with solutions to work through these situations.
If you would like some more information on how you can support self-advocacy skills within the school environment, check out these resources below!
What is Self-Advocacy?
What is Growth Mindset?
Cook O’Toole, J. (2013). The Asperkid’s secret book of social rules: The handbook of not-so-obvious social guidelines for tweens and teens with Asperger syndrome. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Singer, B.D. & Mogensen, J. (2021, August). Getting to self-advocacy-step by step. The ASHA Leader, 32-40.