- Need to know: An important discussion on nurturing children’s growth and development: Self-advocacy skills.
As parents, we play a vital role in nurturing our children’s growth and development so that they can navigate situations independently and confidently. For neurodivergent kids, developing self-advocacy skills is particularly crucial. Self-advocacy empowers them to express their needs, preferences, and challenges effectively.
Why it’s important
If your child has a neurological or learning difference, they may face unique hurdles in their daily interactions, school life, relationships etc, and learning to advocate for themselves can be a transformative skill that they can call upon throughout their lives.
Learning to advocate for oneself has two key components:
- Self-awareness – to be able to self-advocate a child needs to be aware of their physical and emotional needs or be able to identify situations that in the past have been problematic. Developing self-awareness is a skill that is built over time, comes with experience and in the early years requires the guidance of a parent or guardian.
- Communication tools – not all children will be able to communicate with words or be able to clearly articulate their thoughts and feelings in tricky situations. This is why as a parent it’s important to equip your child with a script, pre-prepared phrases or actions to help them express their needs and communicate their challenges confidently.
Tips & strategies
Body-autonomy – teaching self-advocacy skills doesn’t have to wait until your child can speak or starts school. Giving your child body-autonomy and not forcing them to give or receive physical affection from family members is an excellent start in promoting self-advocacy. Allowing a child to determine when they stop eating, rather than forcing them to eat all the food on their plate, respects and promotes their body cues as important.
Power of choice – where possible, hold back enforcing expectations and allow your child to make choices and voice their preferences, such as selecting activities or expressing their likes and dislikes. As they grow, gradually expand their responsibilities and decision-making opportunities.
Build self-awareness – help your child understand their strengths, challenges, and emotions especially in the context of tricky circumstances. Identifying and discussing personal triggers is a fundamental part of recognising problematic situations early and avoiding being overwhelmed, scared or angry.
Teach communication strategies – equip your child with effective communication strategies. Role-play various scenarios and practise using different types of communication tools. Having prepared scripts or written phrases can take out the stress to articulate their needs or ask for help when necessary.
Download our PDF with pre-prepared scripts and a section to write your own. Here are some examples of phrases your child can use:
- “I learn best when I can take short breaks to move around and refocus. Can I have permission to do that when I need it?”
- “I have difficulty processing verbal instructions. Can you please provide written instructions as well?”
- “I prefer sitting in the front of the classroom to minimise distractions. Is there a seat available there?”
- “I sometimes get overwhelmed by loud noises. Could I have a quiet space to work on my assignments?”
- “I have trouble organising my thoughts. Can you help me break down this task into smaller steps?”
- “I find it helpful to use coloured markers when taking notes. Can I use them during the lessons?”
- “I struggle with timed tests. Is it possible to have extra time or take the test in a quiet room?”
- “I might need more time to process and respond during class discussions. Can you give me a moment to gather my thoughts?”
- “I have sensory sensitivities. Can I wear noise-cancelling headphones during independent work time?”
- “I tend to get anxious in large group settings. Can I have a buddy to sit with during assemblies or school events?”
Celebrate neurodiversity – engage in open conversations about your child’s neurodivergence, so they can develop a positive self-image and embrace their unique qualities. Kids can be cruel when they see differences, and as parents one of the most important things we can do is strengthen our own child’s confidence against harmful words and actions.
Foster independence – encourage your child to take ownership of their tasks and responsibilities. Allow them to solve problems independently and make decisions, even if it means making mistakes. These experiences give your child the opportunity to trust in their abilities and foster their sense of independence.
Get educators on board – meet with teachers and school staff to discuss your child’s needs and collaborate on the adjustments and accommodations that can create a supportive learning environment. Educators play a vital role in teaching self-advocacy and providing accommodations when needed.
Lead by example – show your child how you advocate for your needs and seek help when required. Talking out loud while you problem solve is a perfect way of demonstrating how to work through tricky situations.
Celebrate progress – acknowledge your child’s courage in speaking up and seeking support at home and at school. Celebrating achievements, big or small, reinforces their confidence in self-advocating and motivates them to continue growing in this skill.
Teaching your child self-advocacy skills is giving them a life-long gift that not only equips them to seek support and accommodations but also builds their self-confidence and nurtures their self-esteem.