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This article originally appeared in START Connecting in February 2020.
Remember self-advocacy! This topic was presented at the Fall RCN Leadership Day and we want to recap how important it is to be mindful of self-advocacy across all ages and environments. Self-advocacy is simply defined as being able to communicate for yourself about the things that are important to you, asking for what you need and want, telling others about your thoughts and feelings, and knowing about and speaking up for your legal rights. Self-advocacy should start in early childhood and progress as the child ages. Self-advocacy is very important as it allows for greater independence and autonomy in decision making and controlling one’s own life and decisions.
Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities may need to be explicitly taught independence skills which promote self-advocacy. It is often easier for families and educators to assist children to make things easier for them, but having high expectations is one way to promote independence skills. When children are approached with high expectations, this can help them feel more connected as they are more actively engaged in their home and school experiences. This also helps with self-confidence and builds a sense of belonging with their peers—the very spirit of inclusion. When expectations are insufficient, it may inhibit development of important independence skills that make life more fulfilling into adulthood. Self-advocacy additionally reduces vulnerability by decreasing dependence on others for care, services, and support. Maintaining expectations is essential for all children to increase self-advocacy and overall independence.
Ideas for Promoting Self-Advocacy
There are many ways educators and families can help children self-advocate and gain greater independence. Sometimes families need help in understanding self-advocacy and why it is important. The following are only a few examples of ways to promote self-advocacy at school, and help families promote self-advocacy at home and in the community:
- Student participates in Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings (for younger children may be shorter period of time; eventually should lead the IEP meeting)
- Student makes choices in and out of the classroom that affect them
- Student practices saying “no” in appropriate contexts
- Student practices problem solving
- Student seeks out peers at school for help
- Student is aware of, and presents on, their disability
- School team uses the START Passport to promote independence skills
- Connect families to self-advocacy resources
- Help families understand the importance of gaining independence & practicing self-advocacy
- Help families identify ways to promote self-advocacy & independence at home with their child (taking part in household responsibilities, making choices at home, learning about self-care, and more)
- Help families identify ways to promote self-advocacy and independence with their child in the community (taking part in health care, having and using a bank account, asking questions, and staying safe)