Teaching our kids to self advocate

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”   Eleanor Roosevelt


  1. What is Self Advocacy?nature-portrait-teen-601030-l

The dictionary defines self-advocacy as the act of representing oneself, either generally in society or in formal proceedings, such as a court. For parents, it looks more like the practice of having a person with cognitive impairment or a disability speak for themselves and control their own affairs, rather than having a non-handicapped person assume responsibility for them.

As parents we know that we would like to be able to assist our children in all the decisions they make, however, we know that there will come a time when we no longer will be there to help them make those decisions and we want to give our children some skills to be able to make their own decisions.

One of the first things we need to teach our children is about their disability, what it is and how it affects them so they can share this information with others. Our kids know they are different, so letting them know why will give them the ability to understand why their bodies work differently than their peers.

  1. Why is Self-Advocacy important?

How to start teaching our child to do this may sound like a most insurmountable task, but we have to start somewhere. You may have already started teaching these skills without even knowing. Every time you give your child a choice you are asking them what they chose for themselves. That is self-advocacy, the ability to speak-up for yourself and chose the things that are important to you.

  1. When is Self-Advocacy useful?

We want to teach our children to use their skills and practice any time we are interacting with different adults or professionals. For example they can use their skills:

  • When they want someone to listen to them
  • When they are being assessed
  • When they want to complain about something
  • When they want to develop or review a care plan (doctors)
  • When developing their IEP or work plan

One of the things I have done with Adriana is rehearsing going to the doctor, we make a list of questions she might have. During the IEPs she also had a role, first it was introducing her teachers to us and telling us what each teacher did for her, later what she learned in each class, and now she advocates for new opportunities in her job. It takes practice, especially when your child is shy, or has communication issues.

  1. Where can your child Self-Advocate?

Practice makes perfect, and if not perfect, gives us the ability to improve our skills. So we want to make sure we encourage our children to practice at home, at school, when they go to the doctor, while shopping, at restaurants. Any time they are not happy with the way something is one, that is when we can help them change it. The funny thing is they do it with us all the time: “No mom, not that shirt, not those shoes, I want the crust off my sandwich, etc., etc.

  1. How do we teach Self-advocacy skills?

You have heard the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”, likewise it will take a team to teach them self-advocacy skills. Like we said before the skills can be practiced through the day. Here are some things you can work on with your child:

  • Making personal choices – clothes to wear, food to eat, movie to watch
  • How are we going to train – Do you work at home, at school, on the bus, Depending on the skill you want to work on, chose the location to practice. When we were teaching Adriana to use a credit card, I would let the cashier as well as the people in line behind us so they would give us some time to work on the skill.
  • Ask your friends to role play with your child and get feedback from them on progress.
  • Ask teachers to put this skill on the IEP and
  • Ask other professionals that work with your child to help you practice the self-advocacy skills you are teaching.

Remember that we want to be clear on the skill that we are working on which is to teach our children to speak out for themselves, to make choices and share them with their family, their teachers, their friends and their team.



Self-Advocacy: A valuable skill for your teenager with LD – http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/self-advocacy-teenager-with-ld/

Self-Advocacy – Wrightslaw – http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/sec504.selfadvo.ld.johnson.htm

Teaching Self-Advocacy skills to students – http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/sec504.selfadvo.ld.johnson.htm


Luz Adriana

My name is Luz Adriana Martinez and for the past 27 years I have been working in the field of advocacy for children with disabilities. I hold an MBA from the University of Phoenix and a BA from the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico.

I’m married to a great guy, Tito, an Army Veteran of 22 years, who supports all the crazy things I do. Being an Army wife also prepared us to be always on the move and without daddy for long periods of time. This also gave me the opportunity work and volunteer with organizations whose mission was to assist other military families. This blog results from my desire to give back to the many families that have given me and mine so much. I have had the fortune to be able to travel the world assisting military families and now that that stage of my life is over, I want to continue to share what I have learned in the hopes that I can still provide some information and resources to families who need it.

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