Self-Advocacy is an essential life skill for all students to learn – especially those with special needs. If students can be taught to be their own advocate, then they can be less reliant on others and can, instead, stand up for themselves and proactively articulate their needs.
A recent article on edweek.com highlighted the importance of teaching Self-Advocacy to students with disabilities.
According to the article, many students with disabilities second-guess themselves and rely on others for support and guidance throughout the course of their early education. The article encourages educators to utilize the IEP meetings to help students practice and learn self-advocacy.
Rather than asking single response questions or making statements that allow the student to remain silent and rely on others, Ms. Van Laarhoven, an associate professor of special and early education at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, recommends asking specific open-ended questions to encourage a more lengthy response from the student. Again, this is “practice” for the student and the student can certainly be coached along the way for success. The student’s responses do not have to be perfectly grammatically correct or free from um’s.
Try to ask questions that are not simply yes or no – consider following up “what is your favorite class?” with “what do you like best about Z class?” “What do you like learning about in Z class?” “What do you most enjoy doing in Z class?”
Consider also “Who do you sit with in the lunchroom?” “Do you like lunch period?” “What do you like about lunch period?” “If there was anything we could do to make lunch period better for you, what would that be?” “What would you like to work on for our next IEP meeting?
Ms. Van Laarhoven recommends having students actually present to their IEP teams, including parents, so that they feel comfortable in that type of setting and can practice their self-advocacy skills.
By teaching your students with disabilities the skills of self-advocacy, you’ll help them learn to speak and plan for themselves as they navigate transitioning from high school to their next step in life.
If you are looking for more specific information on Self-Advocacy teaching tools, Project Discovery offers a package of Self-Advocacy training courses to assist educators with teaching this essential life skill to their students.