Self-Advocacy In Students With Learning Disabilities: An Overview

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Last Updated on February 4, 2022 by Editorial Team

Learning disabilities affect communication skills, cognition, decision-making, and other abilities required for normal living. If you inspect closer all these traits are required for putting forth the points made in the favor of the self.

Often it happens that a sense of undue gratitude enters the psyche of children especially when the world around shows its extra caring side. And, they find it okay to keep their aspirations, dreams, and their side of the story to themselves. It is precisely what the lack of self-advocacy means. Let’s explore in this post why children with SLDs need to learn this trait and the benefits they can derive from it.

Self-advocacy – Why it has become a matter of discussion

In 2001, the president of the United States came up with New Freedom Initiative (NFI) Act. It aimed at making the community environment more inclusive for students with certain disabilities. The need to call for this Act lied in the fact that the potential of people with LDs and other disabilities could not be exploited to the full. A major reason lied in their inability to express their aspirations, communication barriers, and tendency to avoid accountability. This inability was manifested as a lack of self-advocacy.

On attainment of the age of 18, people are regarded as adults and need to be responsible for their actions and decisions. They must be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and should be vocal about their specific needs. It can help everybody if people with LDs can express their intentions to study in the field of their choice, and take jobs they are genuinely interested in. Thus, to help people have perfect conditions to study, work, and self-develop so that they can be true contributors to the nation’s economy, self-advocacy skill has become a must. 

Self-advocacy in students with learning disabilities

Mutual understanding arises from the clear expression of needs, views, and desires. Usually, parents or guardians of people with disabilities tend to decide for them and that leads to silent suffering. The skill of self-advocacy allows children, on growing up, to stand for their choices and follow the path that they feel is right for them. At various stages, this skill helps; here are a few instances:

  • Self-advocacy, in the case of a student with special needs, can help them convey their necessities rightfully. Such students can take part in active communication and help the authorities understand the nature of their disability. A child confident of saying, I have difficulty in understanding your point, and I need alternative way of studies is nothing but an outcome of self-advocacy skills. In later years, they can confidently ask for the special support at workplace and be as good at performance and output as others. 
  • This attribute brings in an element of acceptance. Since the person with special needs has become aware of his needs and succeeds in talking about the same to others, it helps elevate their confidence levels. By the way of communication and expressing, they can take reins of any situation in their hand and get equal opportunities as deserved.

Identifying a person with self-advocacy skills

Boosting self-advocacy in children is important for encouraging better involvement. But, the correct ways to boost it come from correct identification. By identifying the extent of need and the relevant solution applicable, it becomes easier to guide people on how to capitalize on their strengths. You can identify a person with self-advocacy skills by the following traits:

  • Aware of his strengths and weaknesses
  • Fully informed of his preferences and interests and is vocal about those
  • Understands the need to act when needed
  • Expresses views and communicates needs and necessities as they are
  • Strong problem-solving ability
  • Element of self-reliance in behavior
  • Reasonable negotiating abilities to achieve goals

Mastering self-advocacy through cognitive approach

Having self-advocacy means developing a self-identity, where the children can make their own decisions. By identifying compatibility, relationship-making abilities, and a sense of camaraderie, a child can learn to be gregarious and friendly. Hence, encouraging to develop social skills is an important step in promoting self-advocacy. 

Self-advocacy also helps with other facets like teamwork, problem-solving, and self-reliance. Their awareness of their rights needs to be acknowledged by mentors, teachers, and parents. Thus, they should seek guidance for the same and should try to find more about those too. 

Cognition about possibilities of discrimination and prejudice is very crucial to maintain self-esteem. This can be developed if the parents exhibit an authoritative parenting style. In this approach, the parents hold the authority but only to guide and direct children on correct ways. By correctional approach, they guide children when they go wrong, and tell them about the limits. While doing so, they respect a child’s space and allow the free flow of ideas and thoughts. Thus, children, by way of feeling safe and attaining self-awareness, grow up to become better in holding responsibilities.

Parents should never ask the child to hide their learning disability, as it makes them even more conscious. Instead, boosting cognitive abilities by way of interviews and quick questioning can make children aware of their interests. Thus, questions of exploratory nature like, ‘what are you good at?’ and ‘what is your favorite game?’ drive better choice-making abilities, and they can express their interests with added clarity.

Self-advocacy and IEPs

Self-Advocacy is an attribute that does not need much forcing; it will come naturally in a child. But what about a child with special needs? The children who face challenges in learning academically might also face a challenge in grasping this skill. For these children who need special education, significant importance is given to the Individual Education Program (IEP) in their curriculum, which must be introduced from the start of the school itself.

IEP helps the students to make goals and decide their pace of learning. The interviews conducted to set IEPs break the communication barrier. By the way of talking, they drop the hesitation of speaking up for themselves. In essence, IEP helps students grasp social skills like self-advocacy easily and in a better form. 

Self-Advocacy can be an essential part of IEP Goals, but at the same time, the objective should be S.M.A.R.T. That is, it should be Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented and Time-Bound. IEPs are also crucial because it pays attention to pairing the ultimate goal with smaller objectives so that the success can be measured and worked upon accordingly.  

Best practices to attain self-advocacy skills

Students with learning disabilities can explore the following practices to encourage self-advocacy:

  • Accepting their additional needs

Children need to realize that they are just like any other student. It’s just that their needs are a little different than other kids at school. Thus, they have equal rights anywhere they are. 

  • Taking the opportunities

Students with impaired learning need to welcome opportunities given to them and not hesitate or distract themselves from exploring their potentials. 

  • Maintaining allies

Allies form a crucial strength for students who have difficulties in learning. They should make it a habit to make and maintain relationships with people around them and others with special needs to form strong alliances.

  • Inducing a robust lifestyle

Students with learning disabilities must try itemizing a healthy and robust lifestyle since this ensures that they are strong. This makes them retain motivation and self-confidence.

Summing up

Students with learning disabilities have special needs, so becoming self-reliant and independent would take them longer than the other students. But this surely does not mean that they need to be dependent on someone to communicate their needs effectively. Once they are old enough to understand their special needs, children should be prompted to speak up for themselves and know what they want to achieve. Teachers, parents, caregivers all have a role to play when it comes to helping a child with learning impairment recognize their life goals, be independent, and pave the way to success. Self-advocacy is one trait that can position them firmly in the world once they are out of school. Hence, such a trait should be enforced at the right time. 


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