Self-advocacy is an important skill for kids with learning and thinking differences to develop. Being able to speak up for what they need helps them navigate challenges and get support.
You can help your child build this skill by providing opportunities to speak up and ask for help. The process begins with helping your child understand and talk about the challenges. Here are some tips for getting started.
1. Be open about learning and thinking differences.
Talk to your child about learning and thinking differences in ways your child can relate to. If kids have a diagnosis, they may not need to know the clinical term. But it’s important for your child to know that there’s nothing wrong with talking about it.
2. Discuss how their issues affect them.
Talk with kids about how their issues affect them, and be sure to make it a discussion. You want to give your child a chance to tell you what’s difficult. For example, you can say, “Your causes you trouble with reading.” But your child might say, “I don’t like reading out loud because it’s hard for me.” Let your child practice ways of explaining those challenges to other kids. (“It takes me longer to read, but I’m working hard at it.”)
3. Help your child discover their strengths.
Everyone has things that come more naturally to them than others. Your child probably can identify where they need help. But it’s also important for your child to be able to identify strengths. It gives your child a way to talk about what they’re good at. (“It takes me longer to read, but you should see me on the baseball field!”)
4. Practice what to say to teachers.
Your child may be nervous about asking too many questions or requesting . Remind kids that teachers are there to help. If your child is shy about self-advocating, work together on a 3×3 card to share with the teacher. You can also practice self-advocacy sentence starters to help your child learn to speak up. And don’t forget to talk about when and how to ask a teacher for help.
5. Let your child be a decision maker.
Part of self-advocacy is making decisions about what you need and what works best for you. Give your child the chance to make some of those decisions. For instance, let your child choose where to study at home. (Take a look at the best places to do homework before giving your child some choices.) Or ask your child to decide what to have for dinner one night a week. Knowing their voice matters is important.
6. Remind your child that you’re a team.
In grade school, kids are just starting to become self-advocates. Assure your child that you’re still going to advocate on their behalf. And let your child know that not only are you a team, but that you’re learning how to be an effective advocate, too. Self-advocacy skills are something you can work on together.
About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Donna Volpitta, EdD is the founder of Pathways to Empower. Her work draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and education.