Self-Advocacy: Empowering Individuals with Disabilities

 August 27, 2015
Posted by M&LAdmin4

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Parents of children with special needs often find themselves filling many roles; caregiver, therapist, chef, chauffeur, tutor – the list can go on and on. One of the most powerful and important roles a parent of a child with special needs can play, however, is that of an advocate. An advocate, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, is a person that publicly (and in the case of parents, tirelessly) fights for a cause or an individual.

Advocacy for children and individuals with special needs can be vitally important for a number of reasons. It can draw attention to an injustice or unfairness of a government/health policy, it can help those who are slipping through the system to be recognized and receive access to special needs resources, and it can even unite people to fight for a common cause.  Most importantly – it can help your child receive the services, care, and/or benefits that he or she needs to realize his or her full potential.

As a parent, you know your child best and are therefore the best possible advocate that he or she has. As your child begins to transition into adulthood, it is important to pass these advocacy skills on. Teaching your child how to be his or her own self-advocate will empower him/her; by learning how to self-advocate your child will have the knowledge needed for success and will be able to participate in decisions that are made about his or her life.

What is Self-Advocacy?

According to the Center for Parent Information and Resources, self advocacy is “learning how to speak up for yourself, making your own decisions about your own life, learning how to get information so that you can understand things that are of interest to you, finding out who will support you in your journey, knowing your rights and responsibilities, problem solving, listening and learning, reaching out to others when you need help and friendship, and learning about self determination.”

Self-advocacy can be useful in many different ways, and in many different situations. It is important to draw on self-advocacy skills whenever it is important for the individual’s voice to be heard – this includes situations in which medical/care plans are being reviewed or put in place, during assessments, or whenever an individual feels that he or she is being treated unfairly. Self-advocacy is an essential skill for all individuals, and can help individuals with disability build successful, happy lives.

If you would like to learn more about self-advocacy, please visit Self-Advocacy Skill Building, a manual released by Australian-based organization, EDAC.

How To Teach Your Family Member Self-Advocacy Skills

It is never too early to begin teaching your children the importance of self-advocacy, and the skills necessary to effectively self-advocate. Once of the first steps to teaching children self-advocacy skills is to teach your children about self-determination – the knowledge about one’s strengths and limitations. By teaching your child self-determination, your child learns that he or she is strong, capable, successful, and, ultimately, responsible for her or her own goals, accomplishments and setbacks.

In addition to teaching your child self-determination, parents looking to build self-advocacy skills should provide and promote decision-making activities for their children throughout the day; i.e. timing of events, personal choices, etc. Autism Speaks recommends teaching these five decision-making steps to your children when focusing on building self-advocacy skills:

  • What is the decision you need to make?
  • What decisions could you make?
  • Evaluate each choice. What are the pluses and minuses of each choice?
  • Pick the best choice. Describe which choice is best for you.
  • Did you make the best choice for you?

Another important strategy for teaching your child to self-advocate is to help your child understand his or her rights and responsibilities as an individual with disability. It is important that he or she is aware of what is acceptable and not acceptable in terms of treatment, access, services, etc. It is also important to teach your child how to verbalize and communicate his or her concerns and ask for help in the event of unfair treatment, or violations of their human rights.

If you would like to learn more about how to teach your child self-advocacy skills, please click here to watch the video, Parents Teaching Self-Advocacy Skills: Helping Your Child Toward Self Determination, or here to read the Pacer Center’s Action Sheet: How You Can Help Your Child Learn to Be a Good Self-Advocate.

Would You Like More Information?

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit our website today. We hope that we have passed on some interesting and useful information in regards to self-advocacy, and self-advocacy skill building.

if you would like more information on this topic, or any topic related to financial or life planning for individuals with disability, please contact us! We would love to discuss with you any of your questions or concerns about the future of your family with special needs. Additionally, please click here or here for a list of resources that will help you and your family members with special needs gain a full understanding of self-advocacy.

Thanks again for dropping by – we hope to see you again next week!


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