Parents of children and adults with disabilities often find themselves filling many roles; caregiver, therapist, chef, chauffeur, and tutor – the list can go on and on. One of the most powerful and important roles a parent of a child or adult with disabilities can play, however, is that of an advocate. An advocate, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, is a person that raises awareness for a cause or an individual.
Advocacy for children an adults with disabilities can be important for a number of reasons. It can draw attention to an injustice or unfairness of a government/health policy, it can help those who are slipping through the system to be recognized and receive access to resources, and it can even unite people to support one another for a common cause. Most importantly – it can help your child/ adult receive the services, care, and/or benefits that he or she needs to succeed at his or her full potential.
Parents, you know your child/adult best and are therefore the best advocate that he or she has. As your child/adult begins to transition into adulthood, it is important to pass these advocacy skills on. Teaching your child/adult how to be his or her own self-advocate will empower him/her; by learning how to self-advocate your child/adult will have the knowledge needed for success and will be able to participate in decisions that are made about his or her life.
What is Self-Advocacy?
According to SABE Empowered, self advocacy is “learning how to speak up for yourself, making your own decisions about your own life, learning how to get information so that you can understand things that are of interest to you, finding out who will support you in your journey, knowing your rights and responsibilities, problem solving, listening and learning, reaching out to others when you need help and friendship, and learning about self determination.”
Self-advocacy can be useful in many different ways, and in many situations. It is important to draw on self-advocacy skills whenever it is important for the individual’s voice to be heard this includes situations in which medical/care plans are being reviewed or put in place, during assessments, or whenever an individual feels that he or she is being treated unfairly. Self-advocacy is an essential skill for all individuals, and can help individuals with disabilities build successful, happy lives.
How To Teach Your Family Member Self-Advocacy Skills
It is never too early to begin teaching your children the importance of self-advocacy, and the skills necessary to effectively self-advocate. One of the first steps to teaching children an adults self-advocacy skills is to teach your children about self-determination. The knowledge about one’s strengths and limitations. By teaching your child/adult about self-determination, your individual learns that he or she is strong, capable, successful, and, ultimately, responsible for his or her goals, accomplishments and setbacks.
In addition to teaching your child self-determination, parents looking to build self-advocacy skills should provide and promote decision-making activities for their children/adult throughout the day. For example timing of events, personal choices.
Here are five decision-making steps for your child/adult when focusing on building self-advocacy skills:
-What is the decision you need to make?
-What decisions could you make?
-Evaluate each choice.
-What are the pluses and minuses of each choice? Pick the best choice. Describe which choice is best for you.
-Did you make the best choice for you?
Another important strategy for teaching your child/adult to self-advocate is to help your child/adult understand his or her rights and responsibilities as an individual with disability. It is important that he or she is aware of what is acceptable and not acceptable in terms of treatment, access, and services. It is also important to teach your child/adult how to verbalize and communicate his or her concerns and ask for help in the event of unfair treatment, or violations of their rights.