Coaching Self-Advocacy To Children With Disabilities

Any advice in helping my child with ADHD how to advocate for himself?

Although there are a variety of school-based services available for children with learning, emotional and social disabilities one critical need often goes unfulfilled: providing guidance and strategies that instill self-advocacy. Most students have only a superficial notion of the reasons they receive these special accommodations, and many children are completely uninformed. Resource teachers and specialists do not generally have the authority to label and enlighten students about their disabilities, the foundation for building self-advocacy. If children are to learn how to become better consumers of educational resources, especially as they grow older, someone must take the lead.

If you are a parent of a child with such a disability read on for ways to coach self-advocacy.

coaching-self-advocacy-to-children-with-disabilitiesIntroduce their diagnosis in elementary school so that the child can make sense out of their struggles. Use a matter-of-fact tone of voice when explaining to your child that they learn/behave/relate differently than other students and therefore need extra help to ensure that they can succeed just like their classmates. Don't leave out the disability label, such as writing disability, ADHD, or Aspergers Syndrome, since labels are a reality of their educational life. Emphasize that the teachers and special staff at school who help them will be aware of this label and prepared to help in certain ways to make school a fairer place for them to grow.

Review with your child the ways the school must provide special help and services. Emphasize that these accommodations are rules the school must follow. "You have the responsibility to do your best job and teachers must follow the learning/behavior/friendship helping rules that make things fair for you," is one way to put it. Explain how extra time on assessments, decreased homework, or social skills groups are examples of the helping rules parents and students make sure that schools follow. Discuss how there is a written promise called the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that includes all the helping rules and makes all of this clear.


Find child friendly resources, such as books, websites, and video material, that goes into much greater detail about their disability and the ways other children have learned to cope and achieve despite their limitations. Use these materials as a springboard for deeper discussion about past times when their disability created significant stress and barriers to success. If so, reassure them that this was before their problem was known and that now that it has been identified there is so much that can be done to build a plan for success.

Point out that one of their most important responsibilities is to be able to discuss their disability with teachers and ask for extra help and accommodation when struggles are too great. Make sure that these discussions take place before middle school when developmental factors make it harder to get such discussions started. Ensure that they know what practical steps are in their IEP at each grade so that they can respectfully remind teaching staff if necessary. Liken their disability to having to wear glasses and how students with glasses have accepted this as a necessary helping step to learn.

Dr. Steven Richfield is a child psychologist and author in Plymouth Meeting. Comtact him at 610-238-4450

Ed. note: Detailed information on parenting skills here.

Visit Dr. Steven Richfield's site The Parent Coach, right here at HealthyPlace

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Last Updated: 28 March 2017

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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