Self-advocacy is one of the most important tools a student can acquire during their schooling. Not only does it help with working out short-term solutions (for example, getting access to a needed accommodation in class), but it also helps students build a sense of self-empowerment, leading to increased confidence and independence. Self-advocacy is an amazingly powerful tool for those who struggle with learning and attention, and there’s a lot you can do as a parent to help your child develop it.
My Story: Why Self-Advocacy Is ImportantThroughout my academic career, I have discovered the hard way that the only person that will make me their number one priority is me. While educators are dedicated to their students’ success, they must divide their time equally between all students and their individual needs. In my own life, I have felt helpless and powerless in school situations on several occasions. My way of handling those frustrations was to sulk and welcome feelings of self-pity. It wasn’t until college that I realized self-advocacy was the secret to success. I learned that self-advocacy could only bring positive outcomes and that if I wasn’t going to advocate for myself, no one else would.
As a parent, you likely play the role of your child’s primary advocate. But the earlier your child learns to self-advocate, the more prepared they’ll be for the challenges that they may face in the future. Think of the popular Chinese proverb, “Give a man to fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime.” If you teach self-empowerment to children, they will be equipped with the tools to overcome life’s barriers and attain long-term success. Of course, it’s a parental instinct to do everything in your power to shield your child from external challenges. However, in reality, learning and attention difficulties are a part of your child’s everyday life, and the best thing you can do for your child is encourage self-advocacy in the classroom and in life. Here’s how.
How to Help Your Child Become a Self-Advocate
Help them understand their personal strengths and challenges.
Students must understand their own strengths and needs in order to clearly explain to others the specific strategies and accommodations necessary for their success. Help make this happen by taking time to sit down with your child and review important documents together, like the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and professional assessments
Encourage them to use the accommodations they are entitled to.
There’s no reason for students to be afraid to take advantage of accommodations. Teach your child to use the accommodations they are entitled to, and encourage them to speak up if an accommodation is not being provided.
Having a solid support system and knowing how to use it is a crucial success factor for people with LD. As a parent, you’re a key part of your child’s support system, but you can’t do it all. Help your child seek out a role model or mentor who can provide additional support in academic and personal affairs. And don’t underestimate the value of discovering a community of people who also struggle with learning and attention issues—the internet can be a great place to turn for support and camaraderie with others who are going through the same issues.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
A main component of self-advocacy is the ability to communicate needs to others. It’s crucial that kids are able to explain how LD affects their life and how it influences their academic performance. Remember, while you and your child are likely experts in the world of LD, many teachers, administrators, coaches, bosses and more may not be well versed in the subject. You can help prepare your child with explanations and requests by role-playing common situations and helping them prepare what to say.
Get them on the phone! (Or the inbox…)
When your child is struggling with a concept in class, do you immediately reach for the phone and call her teacher? If your child is in middle school or high school, you might want to think about letting them take the lead next time. Communicating with teachers is great practice for the real world, and a great opportunity for students to practice their advocacy skills. Remember that when your child pursues post-secondary education and/or a career path, she will be the one communicating with professors and supervisors—not you. Don’t let freshman year of college be the first time your child has to do this. Get started now.
Start planning for transition early—and put them in the driver’s seat.
Starting in middle school, students’ IEPs should begin to address a transition plan for life after high school. This should include post-secondary education or employment plans and detail the types of services students will need after graduation. These aren’t decisions teens can make without support, but they’re also not decisions you should be making for them. Provide guidance and input, but allow your teen to lead the post-secondary decision-making process. This will help them get invested in their goals and prepare them for life after high school.
Jordana Keslassy was a Summer 2013 NCLD intern. She is studying Psychology at the University of Western Ontario.