Developing Self Advocacy Skills in Adolescents and Young Adults
Samantha Curiale-Feinman, MS.Ed., TSHH, Director
New Frontiers Executive Function Coaching
What is self advocacy and why is it important?
Self advocacy is one’s ability to speak on behalf of themselves, and is a critical skill to acquire when it comes to moving towards independence. Self-advocacy includes the quest for finding information, the process of making independent decisions, seeking help in times of need, understanding one’s rights and responsibilities, and problem solving as issues arise. In order to be a successful and independent college student and young adult, it can be advantageous to learn and practice using self-advocacy skills often.
The cycle of good self-advocacy skills looks something like this: In order to self-advocate, it is essential to have a clear foundational understanding of one’s self as a learner to identify when a problem has occurred. Once an individual recognises a problem with which they need help, they have to be able to communicate their need for help to others, accept the help, and then reflect on its effectiveness. If the help was unsuccessful, students must turn in another direction to try and solve the issue at hand in a different way. If the help was successful, students need to be aware of why it helped so that they can incorporate such support to similar situations in the future.
Learning to self advocate
Students can begin to learn to self-advocate as early as elementary school, and it should be heavily encouraged and practiced by high school. First and foremost, students should develop a solid understanding of their personal strengths and needs. They should identify what comes easy to them in school and what tends to be more challenging. Students should think about what they can do easily and what takes more time. Reflecting on personal strengths and weaknesses as a learner will help to identify in advance areas where students may need to seek help. Once students have a good understanding of who they are as a learner, they should then develop an understanding of when to ask for help and be comfortable in doing so.
Students can practice using self-advocacy skills proactively. Setting one’s own appointments, introducing themselves to their teachers and professors at the beginning of the school year or semester, asking questions actively in class, and communicating to others one’s personal strengths and weaknesses are all ways that students can develop their ability to identify to others who they are and what they need. Students can also practice using different modes of communication (in-person, email, texts, etc.) based on the context of the need and the preference of their audience.
Reactively, students should also practice seeking out help after facing specific challenges. For example, if you get a lower than expected grade on a paper, set a meeting to discuss your grade with the teacher or professor. Ask questions about how you can improve the next time around and then create a plan of how to execute that help. Brainstorm different options and follow through, such as going to the writing center or a tutor for extra help, or reviewing a rough draft with the teacher or professor before submitting the final version.
Self advocacy for independence
Self-advocacy skills should be discussed and practiced daily during adolescence and through young adulthood. These skills should be developed before individuals reach the postsecondary or employment environments. Strong self-advocacy skills lead to greater confidence and success in young adulthood. Self-advocacy takes time to develop; therefore, the more practice adolescents receive to self-advocate as they move through middle school and high school through college, the better!