Shared from inMotion | Volume 30, Issue 4 | July/August 2020, Page 12
By Carol Blymire
Young people who know how to advocate for themselves (also called self-advocacy) are more confident, and use that important skill to support lifelong success. Unfortunately, not every child is taught how to understand their needs and be able to communicate those needs to other people.
Self-advocacy is something nearly every child can learn with practice and with help from an adult or older youth who already has learned this skill. It’s important for kids to practice self-advocacy as they age to help achieve independence and strengthen their confidence.
The Amputee Coalition’s events and training coordinator, Daniel Carroll, knows a thing or two about self‑advocacy.
“My mom told me, after the car accident I was in, that I shouldn’t be scared to ask questions if I needed something,” he said. Daniel lost his right arm in a car accident when he was nine years old.
When he was able to return to school, administrators had talked to teachers and students about his accident and why he had been out of school for so long, and he felt comfortable being back among his friends. A few years later, though, the family moved to a new school district, where he didn’t know anyone, just in time for high school. Daniel remembers the principal telling him at freshman orientation that she would be there for him if he needed anything.
“I didn’t understand then why she said it, but I understood it the first day of school when everyone stared and no one knew what to say to me,” Daniel said.
That high school principal changed everything about the way he thought about self-advocacy.
“I was having trouble taking notes in class and I took the principal up on her offer of help,” Daniel said. “She said, ‘well, what do you think would be a good solution for this?’ and I was shocked. I proposed bringing in my iPad because typing was easier than writing with my left hand, and she told me also to ask the teacher for the notes from her lesson plan so I could check my notes against it. She said, ‘if you’re going to come to me with a problem, I need you also to be prepared to tell me the solution … you need to be a part of finding new ways to do things because you know yourself better than we ever could.”
Daniel said it changed everything for him and gave him a new sense of freedom and responsibility.
“She said If you ever come to me with a problem without a solution, I can’t do anything for you… but I can help you make your solution happen. It was the best life lesson. It gave me confidence because I came up with a solution, she supported me, we implemented it, and it worked.”
Daniel shares that guiding principle for self-advocacy with the young people he meets, whether it’s the sports teams he coaches or at the Amputee Coalition’s Youth Camp.
To be a strong self-advocate, here are some things to consider:
- Encourage self-awareness. Young people should be aware of themselves and their strengths so they know how to leverage what they’re good at to help find the solutions for things they need more practice with.
- Encourage awareness of others. Young people also need to know that other people often do things that are unintentional. For example, they may need to ask themselves, “Is this person really ignoring me, or are they just really busy and will respond to me as soon as they can?”
- Think about what you want the outcome to be. Identifying the problem isn’t enough. Encourage young people to communicate clearly what they want to be different in terms of results or outcomes.
- Have conversations and let other people speak. Self‑advocacy isn’t a one-way street. Standing up for what you want is important, and finding workable solutions means people sometimes need to go back and forth to really listen and learn from one another.
- Be a collaborative problem solver. Think about ways to solve problems before bringing them to someone’s attention. This will help you have a productive conversation about how to have your needs met and supported.
- Be proactive in new situations. If it’s a new teacher or a new environment, there is great power in saying ahead of time what you need to thrive and succeed in that environment. No one can be a mind reader, and if you know what works for you, you should talk about it with someone.
You are the expert on you! You have gifts, talents, and strengths that no one else has, and understanding what those are will help set you on a path for creative problem solving and self-advocacy.
Here is Daniel Carroll’s advice for young people on how to advocate for themselves:
- Don’t just bring problems, bring solutions (even if you’ve only got part of an idea — it’s a start!)
- Self-acceptance matters; you have to be comfortable in your own skin. Your friends will know who you are and will support you.
- Try. You aren’t going to get anything to change if you don’t ask.
If you need more information about self‑advocacy, here are some resources:
National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability