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Three Ways to Help Your Student's Voice Be Heard: Self Advocacy Tips

by Nicole Kim

Nicole with ReneeI am a professor at College of Adaptive Arts for the Speaking with Confidence class but I am also a parent of an adult with Down syndrome. As Said’s mom, I’ve been used to being his advocate his entire life. Speaking for him and giving him a voice when he didn’t have one. Now that he is 26 and has just moved out in a supported living situation, I recognize the importance of him having his own voice and having the ability to speak for himself. Self-advocacy and self-determination are important skills for people with disabilities to possess and I’d like to share 3 ways you can help your adult gain self-advocacy skills.

Self-advocacy is the act of representing yourself or your own views. Self-determination is the process of taking control and making decisions that affect one’s life. Self-determination helps us make choices, decisions, problem solve, set and attain goals, self-advocate and perform independently. Both are essential for our adult children as they transition to adulthood and independence. It doesn’t matter where your student is in their process, even if they live with you or with caregivers, they can, and should always be, self-advocates!

1. Increase Self-Awareness - Help your student make a list of 3-5 things they are good at and what they need help with.

a. I don’t call it “strengths” and “weaknesses” because we ALL have things we need help with. Part of self-advocacy is knowing when to ask for help and that is NOT a weakness. When we are aware of our limits and abilities, we can be more aware of when we really need help and be able to articulate what help we need.

2. Encourage your student to speak for themselves

a. It’s important to allow your student opportunities for their voice to be heard. The more they get used to speaking up, the more they will do it! If there are situations where you usually speak for your adult child - maybe they are slow in responding or they may not have the verbal skills to clearly articulate their needs, let them speak first. You can then clarify what they want to the listener. To increase their own self-esteem and confidence, they need to know that their voice is important and it needs to be heard.

3. Build community

a. As I said above, asking for help is an essential part of self-advocacy. Your student needs a community of support around them as they seek their goals and dreams. Are there people around you who your student admires or respects? People in your community you trust to help your student become a strong self-advocate? These are people who will listen and support your student on their journey. Some of these people could be: Friends or other students, teachers, religious leaders, or family members.

My son, Said, has dreams of working at Costco, eventually living independently and living a full and inclusive life in this society. My dreams for Said are for him to be happy and fulfilled. As hard as it is to let go, as a parent, I know it’s critical for my son’s success as an independent and contributing citizen.

Filming with Boys

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