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Many parents, individuals and organizations advocate for the welfare and rights of children with disabilities. The role of these people is very important because they support and promote causes that will provide a quality life for children with disabilities. However, as much as these advocates are important and helpful, it is also necessary to teach children with disabilities to be an effective self-advocate.
What is self-advocacy?
Self- advocacy is speaking up for yourself. According to Jenniffer Yoffie in Teaching Advocacy Skills to Children with Disabilities, “Self-Advocacy is empowering individuals with special needs to stand up for themselves and what they want in their life.” It is the ability of oneself to protect their rights and be able to communicate their condition and whatever they need in order to succeed in life. It means that although they may occasionally call upon the help of others, they are able to decide who and what helps them and where do the help comes from.
Andrew M.I. Lee, J.D., in The Importance of Self-Advocacy for Kids with Attention and Learning Issues presented three key factors in helping to further understand the concept of self-advocacy: understanding, knowing and communicating.
The first factor of self-advocacy is understanding, or in other words, self-awareness. This means letting the child understand their condition, strengths, weaknesses and needs. The second factor is knowing, or the ability of the child to identify the support they need from other people. Lastly, communicating refers to the ability of the child to convey all these things to other people for support.
The last element might be the hardest and the most important one because self-advocacy is all about speaking up. For self-advocacy to be effective, the child has to learn to understand their condition and to be able to effectively communicate their needs and wants to other people.
What is the importance of self-advocacy?
- It helps the child to perform better in school. When the child learns how to express their difficulties to the teacher, they are able to request for additional support that they need to catch up in class
- Being a self-advocate can build up their confidence and self-esteem
- It helps to develop their independence and self-empowerment
- They can learn how to overcome challenges in school on their own
- It helps them build their social skills and be able to communicate more effectively with other people
How to teach children to be a self-advocate?
- Allow them to understand their condition – The first step is always allowing them the opportunity to understand more about the nature of their condition. Educate them about their disability so they can also explain it to other people. Explain it to them the simplest way possible. You can also help them express it to other people by teaching them what to say or record audio materials to briefly explain their condition.
- Build their self-esteem – Children with disability usually have low self-esteem. Help them build it up by highlighting their strengths and potential rather than their weaknesses. Talk to them constantly about things that they are good at and let them realise that they are not limited by their disabilities.
- Help them develop their independence – Developing their independence can help them with their confidence. Start with simple things at home such as putting and taking off their own shoes, grooming, washing up, brushing etc.
- Teach them social cues – For them to be an effective self-advocate, they also need to learn and develop their social skills. Teach them how to read social cues such as personal space, body language, facial expression and tones. Help them also to read and understand emotions, as well as the appropriate response to each social situation.
- Motivate them to speak up – Encourage your child to speak up. Engage them in conversation more often and talk about their worries and needs. This would help them to feel comfortable when talking about their condition. Commend them also when they speak up to encourage them.
- Role-play – Role-playing can help them practice what to actually do when they are in situations that they need to explain or protect themselves. This prepares them for different situations that they may encounter in the future. Start with school settings such as interacting with their classmates or teachers.
Teaching self-advocacy to children is not easy. This is even more difficult for children with disabilities. It takes time and practice to develop this skill. Most children with disabilities have low self-esteem so speaking up is a big challenge for them. Sometimes, they feel embarrassed to ask for help or they are unsure of how to effectively express themselves. But one important thing to teach them is that, it is okay to ask for help. At the most, the individual will say no. But just because one person says no, it does not mean that the next person you ask will say no as well.
Andrew M.I. Lee, J. (2014-2019). The Importance of Self-Advocacy for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues. Retrieved from Understood: https://www.understood.org/en/friends-feelings/empowering-your-child/self-advocacy/the-importance-of-self-advocacy
Yoffie, J. (2019). Teaching Self-Advocacy Skills to Children with Disabilities. Retrieved from MSW Careers: https://mswcareers.com/teaching-self-advocacy-skills-to-children-with-disabilities/