Monday, December 5, 2016

Helping Our Kids Find Their Voice

By Jan Labas                                           

Helping our children find their voice as they grow into self-advocates can be a challenging, yet rewarding, experience.  While there are many tools available, this is a very individual process with each child coming to readiness for self-advocacy at his own pace.  As parents we can be informed and prepared early to help steer them toward success.

While they are young children we can encourage them to make well-thought-out decisions.  Start small with choices, such as which coat to wear or what things to pack for an outing.  Practice role playing, and help them to see the possible consequences of the choice.  Though it is important to encourage good choices and reap positive benefits, remember that we also need to allow them to fail.  It’s hard to watch our children experience disappointment and failure, but those can be effective learning tools that can promote self-advocacy much better than any conversation.

Moving toward transition in school offers opportunities for children to participate in decision making and working with professionals.  This is great time to hone self-advocacy skills.  There are student centered tools that can be used to encourage students to make choices for their IEP and practice their communication skills.  Learning and voicing how things work best for them and why is the foundation for self-advocacy.  The child needs to be able to communicate needs like, “I need to sit on the left side of the classroom because I can follow the teacher better.”

When appropriate encourage the student to be responsible for collecting information by making phone calls and requesting information from professionals.  Some students may benefit from role play in the classroom before taking on this type of responsibility.  These types of self-advocacy goals can actually be written into the IEP.  These actions contribute to making informed decisions and taking responsibility for oneself.

When we raise healthy, typically developing children many of these skills seem to happen by osmosis.  When we have to be intentional about making sure we expose and create opportunities for our children with special needs to learn advocacy skills, we can be caught off guard.  I know as a parent I was.  I felt as if I got to the party late.  I had moments of being overwhelmed that I had not prepared my child for to advocate for himself in adult life.  I found the saying that “We don’t often learn the hard things until we have to,” to be true.  If I had to do it all over, I would have started earlier.  I have never met someone and felt that they were far too young to be self-advocating!  Awareness to the opportunities that exist in our everyday lives is a good place to start. 

These sites offer further information regarding self-advocacy.

Kids as Self-Advocates (KASA):
Self-Advocates of Indiana (SAI):


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