Self-advocacy is an important skill for kids with learning and thinking differences to develop. You can help your child build this skill by giving him information and opportunities to speak up for himself. The process begins with helping him understand and talk about his needs and issues. 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 he can relate to. If he has a diagnosis, he 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 his issues affect him.
Talk with him about how his issues affect him, and be sure to make it a discussion. You want to give your child a chance to tell you what he finds 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 learning and thinking differences to other kids. (“It takes me longer to read, but I’m working hard at it.”)
Learn more about how you and your child may view learning and thinking differences differently.
3. Help your child discover his strengths.
Everyone has things that come more naturally to them than others. Your child probably can identify where he needs help, but it’s also important for him to be able to identify his strengths. It gives him a way to talk about what he’s 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 him that his teachers are there to help. If he’s shy about advocating for himself, help him make a 3×3 card to share with his teacher. You can also practice self-advocacy sentence starters with him to help him learn to speak up for himself. 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 him choose where he wants to study at home. (Take a look at the best places to do homework before giving him his choices!) Or ask him to decide what to have for dinner one night a week. Knowing his 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 his behalf. And let him 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.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.
Donna Volpitta, EdD is the founder of Pathways to Empower. Her work draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and education.