Question: We are trying to prepare students to transition to a job after high school, however families of individuals with disabilities rely on their financial benefits to pay their bills and do not want them to seek out a job. How can we encourage students?

Answer provided by AAoM Team Collaboration 

Self-advocacy is the ability to understand and effectively communicate your strengths, weaknesses and needs to other individuals. During the growing years parents speak on behalf of their children at school, home and in the community. It seems that too often the ability to self-advocate is a skill taken for granted, believing that self-advocacy skills are intuitive or that they are taught in school and/or at home. Learning to self advocate assists a child in being able to: find solutions to challenges that their parents may not be aware of; builds confidence in one’s ability to learn; creates a sense of ownership over learning; and develops independence and self-empowerment.

“Self-advocacy is a life-long endeavor, and the teen years offer a particularly fruitful
moment for cultivating self-awareness, self-monitoring, and deeper exploration of what
it means to be autistic, by way of peer discussion groups. Self-advocacy differs from
advocacy in that the individual with the disability self-assesses a situation or problem,
then speaks for his or her own needs. Learning how to do this takes practice and direct
instruction. Too often, we raise our kids, treat our patients, and educate our students
without ever speaking to them directly about autism. Perhaps we’ve made assumptions
or even harbor fears that they aren’t capable of self-reflection. Yet if we deny kids this
very important aspect of identity, we limit their ability to become the successful adults
we want them to be. As with any academic subject, teaching self-advocacy takes training
as well as knowledge of and respect for the disability movement. Parents can model
self-advocacy at home, teachers can offer curricula in school, and most importantly, peers
on the autism spectrum can offer strategies for good living and share mutual experiences.”
-Valerie Paradiz, PhD – Developing Self-Advocacy Skills: An Integral Aspect of Transition Planning (Autism Speaks)

The ability to speak up for ones self is important throughout life when attending school, enjoying community opportunities and ultimately in obtaining and maintaining employment and enjoying community opportunities. Learning to become an effective self-advocate, especially for individuals with a disability is all about educating the persons around you. The key to self-advocacy is knowledge – the more you know about yourself the easier it is to explain to others what your needs are.

Being able to self-advocate is not easy. It is often very difficult for one to speak up for themself, especially if others have always spoken on their behalf, or if there are serious communication and/or cognitive challenges.

This journey of self-education is an ongoing process, as needs evolve over ones lifetime. There are steps to becoming an effective self-advocate: learning/knowing yourself (strengths, weaknesses, preferences); knowing what you need; if unable to verbally communicate having an effective method of communication; and ultimately knowing how to get what you need. Self-advocacy also means educating the people around you. The journey of self-advocacy is a lifetime journey.
Methods of teaching, promoting, self-advocacy skills in school:

  • Talk to the student about their strengths and weaknesses
  • Promote asking for help and reinforce when the student speaks up for help
  • Encourage the use of appropriate accommodations in the classroom
  • Provide role models of students who do self-advocate
  • Add a self-advocacy goal in the IEP
  • Allow problem solving before stepping in to assist
  • Ask student opinion in planning their program, encourage attendance and participation in the IEP process
  • Teach students about their legal rights
  • Provide direct instruction in the development of self-advocacy skills

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