The Importance of Self-Advocacy for Kids with Learning and Attention Issues

February 27, 2018



As a loving parent, you advocate for your child’s needs. You talk with teachers, family members and others about those needs. And you help your child get support in and out of school.


Part of being an effective advocate is teaching your child the skills needed for self-advocacy. It’s something you can start working on early with your child—and continue to work on over time. You can build the foundation for self-advocacy when your child is young and then teach more complex skills to grade-schoolers, middle-schoolers and high-schoolers.


What Is Self-Advocacy

Self-advocacy is a skill that allows kids to understand their strengths and weaknesses, know what they need to succeed and communicate that to other people. Self-advocacy can be broken down into a few key elements:

  • Understanding specific needs. (This is part of self-awareness.)

  • Knowing what help or support will address those needs, like tutoring or classroom accommodations.

  • Communicating those needs to teachers and others.

Let’s say your child struggles with writing. She has a history class that requires taking a lot of notes for homework. Without some kind of writing support, this presents a challenge.


Here’s an example of self-advocacy in action:

  • Your child understands that taking notes is going to be a challenge and knows that voice recognition software helps with note-taking. So your child communicates to the teacher that writing is a challenge and asks to use voice recognition software.

  • If the teacher says yes, your child’s needs are addressed. If the teacher says no, your child understands to talk to another person, like the special education case manager.

  • Explore self-advocacy sentence starters your child can use for different types of learning and attention issues.

  • The Benefits of Self-Advocacy

  • Self-advocacy helps kids learn by creating solutions for challenges in school. In the note-taking example above, the child would do better in class by using voice recognition software.

Of course, a parent could also advocate for voice recognition software. But when kids self-advocate, there are extra benefits. Kids who exercise self-advocacy can:

  • Find solutions to challenges parents may not be aware of

  • Build self-confidence in the ability to learn

  • Create a sense of ownership over their learning

  • Develop independence and self-empowerment

These extra benefits can make a big difference for long-term success. Instead of feeling powerless and dependent on others, kids with self-advocacy skills are prepared to take on life’s challenges.


The benefits of self-advocacy go beyond academics. Kids who can effectively self-advocate can communicate in social situations and even explain to friends why they sometimes need extra help.


How to Build Self-Advocacy in Kids

Because self-advocacy is so important, you may want to take specific steps to help your child build this skill. Here are some ways to help your child develop self-advocacy:

  • Talk with your child about strengths and weaknesses.

  • Have ongoing conversations about learning and attention issues.

  • Remind your child that asking for help is a good thing.

  • Praise your child’s efforts at speaking up.

  • Encourage your child to use classroom accommodations.

  • Find a role model, a mentor with learning and attention issues, for your child.

  • When a problem comes up, give your child a chance to solve it before stepping in.

  • Let your child have a say in educational decisions.

  • If your child has an IEP, encourage her to attend IEP meetings.

  • Consider adding self-advocacy goals to your child’s IEP.

  • Teach your child about legal rights and how to talk about them in a positive, constructive way.

As with any valuable skill, self-advocacy takes practice. Continue to role-play situations that may come up to help your child feel more comfortable about asking for help.


You can also download a self-awareness worksheet to help your child outline strengths and weaknesses, or fill out a 3×3 card together to give to the teacher.

Self-advocacy isn’t easy for many kids. Shy children, for example, may need different support in learning how to self-advocate. Other children may feel awkward or even guilty about asking for help or for an accommodation. That’s especially true if your child feels embarrassed about her learning or attention issues. (Read one young adult’s story of coming to terms with the feeling that she was “cheating” by using accommodations.)


Teaching self-advocacy can be an important part of your own journey as an advocate. Self-advocacy skills can help your child deal with current challenges and the ones that will arise in the future.



Key Takeaways

  • Self-advocacy is an important skill that can help your child do better in school and find more success in the long run.

  • You can take specific steps to help your child learn self-advocacy.

  • Self-advocacy isn’t easy, but with practice your child can develop this skill over time.









  • You can take specific steps to help your child learn self-advocacy.

  • Self-advocacy isn’t easy, but with practice your child can develop this skill over time.


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