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What is self-advocacy?

By Andrew M.I. Lee, JD

At a Glance

  • Self-advocacy is the ability to communicate your needs.

  • People who self-advocate are more likely to thrive in school, work, and life. 

  • Self-advocacy skills can be learned at any age.

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Most people have some idea of what “self-advocacy” is, but it helps to define it. At its heart, self-advocacy is the ability to communicate what your needs are.

Being a good self-advocate has big benefits for kids and adults who learn and think differently. People who know how to self-advocate are more likely to do well in school, work, and life. They often feel confident in what they’re learning and doing.

Self-advocacy also creates independence. And it empowers people to find solutions to problems that others might not be aware of.

Self-advocacy has three key elements:

  • Understanding your needs

  • Knowing what kind of support might help

  • Communicating these needs to others

Here’s a simple example. Say you’re a student who struggles with writing. But you’re in a history class that requires taking a lot of notes.

If you’re a strong self-advocate, you understand that taking notes is going to be a challenge for you. You know that support like pre-printed notes may help. You communicate your challenge to the teacher, and ask for pre-printed notes. If the teacher says no, you know you can reach out to a counselor or other person for help.

People often learn self-advocacy in small steps. They may start with just understanding one of their challenges. Or they may be able to say that something is wrong, but not know what would help. This is self-advocacy, too.

Dive Deeper

How you can learn self-advocacy

Everyone can learn to self-advocate. As with any valuable skill, it takes time and practice. 

The first step is to become more aware of your strengths and challenges. Ask yourself: What am I good at? Where do I struggle? What do I like and not like?

There are many different sources to help you understand yourself.

You’ll also need to learn about different tools and support that can help, and how to ask for them. This comes naturally for some people once they know their challenges. For others, it may take time to get the courage to speak up.

Here are more resources that can help:

How to help kids learn self-advocacy

Self-advocacy isn’t easy for many kids. But even young ones can learn how to speak up for their needs. Here are things you can do to help:

  • Have ongoing conversations about strengths and challenges.

  • When kids run into a challenge, ask what they think would help.

  • Remind kids that asking for help is a good thing, and practice doing it.

  • Find a mentor with similar challenges.

  • Give kids a say in decisions and a chance to solve problems before stepping in.

  • Praise kids when they speak up.

Keep in mind that some kids may feel awkward or even guilty about asking for support. That’s especially true when kids feel embarrassed about their challenges. Try these tips to build self-advocacy in:

These resources can help, too:

Self-advocacy and kids with IEPs

Self-advocacy is especially important for kids who have . These kids often have more challenges. And they need to communicate their needs more often.

Learn how to add self-advocacy goals to a child’s IEP . And consider inviting kids to attend IEP meetings . This can build their confidence and sense of ownership over the help they get in school.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom