What is Self-Advocacy?

Social worker with child teaching self advocacy

Self-Advocacy is empowering individuals with special needs to stand up for themselves and what they want in their life. Giving them the tools and resources to do this will help them be better self-advocate’s and protect them in situations where bullying may occur.

Here are some suggestions to help build these skills with special needs kids:

Role Play with them in various settings (home, school, restaurants, etc.).

Role playing situations often and in various settings with children with specials needs will help guide them when a real situation may occur. An example could be: What do to if someone calls you a name? Have them state their “I” statement such as,” I don’t like that when you _________, please stop.” If bullying does not stop, have them practice walking away and telling a teacher, worker, parents, etc. Remind them it is important to remain safe and walk away when things are not easily resolved.

Have them learn about their disability

Make sure children with a disability know what their disability is and how to explain it to someone. You could work with the child on the best way to present it to others. Examples could be a book read by the parent or teacher on the disability, a power point presentation, a button they hit on their communication device that has a recorded voice on their disability, a simple card that has facts on their disability, etc. Just make sure it’s simple and they can present the material.

Build self-esteem

Make sure children are aware of their strengths and use their accomplishments (make a list with them daily or weekly) to build their self-esteem. Talk to them often about these things. A great idea would be to have a system in place for when the child does something new, different, or helpful.

Praise works well for enhancing self-esteem. For example, giving the child a high five when they ask for help or complete a task will help reinforce that behavior and build their self-esteem.

Help them learn social cues

Teach them to read social cues such as tone, personal space, body language, and facial expressions. It is important they understand emotions as well, such as happy, sad, angry, and hurt. Go through social stories with them on social cues and emotions and use strategies such as social thinking with them. Role playing situations can also be helpful.

Help them learn to problem solve

Use everyday situations to teach problem solving. Start out with basic life skills such as putting on or tying their shoes. Work from there and then build up to bigger problems.

Find a mentor for them

A great thing for a child with a disability would be to connect with an older child with the same disability. Having that person be a part of the child’s life can be very beneficial and helpful in various situations.

This person may have been through bullying in the past and can help role play with the child to help them work through situations. Calling a national organization such as the Down’s Syndrome Association can help find a mentor for your child.

Empowering children will special needs to stick up for themselves plays a big role when it comes to bullying, teasing, etc. Bullying is not just hurtful, but can cause lasting psychological damage. Each child is unique in their own ways and has the power to show it when given the correct tools or strategies.