Today we’re talking about the what and why of self-advocacy. This is just our take on these two parts- feel free to let us know what yours is!
First, what is self-advocacy?
Here’s a way we’ve explained it before to our students, first straightforward, and then wrapped around a few metaphors. So, maybe self-advocacy means this: It’s you knowing what you need in a certain situation in life. It’s you making a decision and being able to state your decision clearly. It’s you making a choice and being able to state clearly WHY you made that choice. It’s you making a choice, stating why you made it AND why you feel it’s a good decision for you.
Now, that could be a little reckless without taking some steps to prepare. In order to make confident, beneficial and INFORMED decisions in your life, you need to know yourself, your responsibilities, your rights, and your OPTIONS.
For example, you want to make your own decisions when ordering your drink at your local coffee shop, right? How would you like it if your teacher, or mom or dad ordered up for you every time you went there- even when you’re seventeen? I mean they might think you just want a hot chocolate every time, because that’s what you had when you were 13...but maybe you’re ready to try something different or new? And how would they know if YOU never say anything? So, it’s time to start saying something- both at the coffee shop and in your education. Gaining self-advocacy is a little like passing the baton in a track ‘n field relay. We sure are glad that someone has been there for you for the beginning years of your life, but it’s your turn next. So the coffee example is simple. But what about choosing the right college for yourself? If you are being a self-advocate, taking yourself through the questions above would be really important. You wouldn’t want your parents to just pick a school for you, would you? You need to make the decision, but you’d information about the school and yourself in order to explain why it’s a good decision for you. All of the ingredients of self-advocacy in that situation might be visiting several schools, talking to disability services, tutoring resources, admissions, financial aid...and more. So, self-advocacy can sometimes get big very quickly.
Why is self-advocacy important?
Self-advocacy doesn't necessarily mean that you have to do everything yourself right now. However, it is participating and taking responsibility and control to the extent that you are able to and pushing yourself to take a leadership role in your life. For example, if you are in high school and have an IEP or 504 plan, you may review your academic progress, discuss your strengths, and guide meeting participants through the agenda of your meeting (stay tuned- our guide for leading your IEP will come in our self-advocacy toolkit). Practicing these steps of independence in a variety of ways is direct preparation for being a successful college student. It may mean the difference between feeling confident and frustrated, between succeeding at your school or returning home to try another route. If attending a college or university is what you want, then self-advocacy must absolutely be a part of your plan.
That’s just a snapshot of self-advocacy from our viewpoint. What’s yours? What challenges are you having with teaching this skill to your students?