Self-Advocacy for Secondary School Students

While in school, students with LDs often rely on parents and teachers to make choices for them and to advocate on their behalf [1]. After the student moves beyond secondary school, however, expectations change, and parents and teachers are no longer able to make decisions on behalf of these students. Self-advocacy skills are regarded as a means of helping adolescents adjust to making decisions on their own and speaking out about their academic needs [2]. However, these skills are rarely acquired by the student independently [3].

teenage boy speaking with teacher in front of lockersSelf-advocacy is especially important for students with LDs as it is necessary to achieve maturity, confidence, and a sense of identity [4]. Students with LDs who are supported to develop self-advocacy skills are more likely to be proactive, take charge of their life at school, persevere in the face of obstacles, and learn from their mistakes. This approach also has the potential to increase their interest in school and to view their education as an integral part of who they are.

All too often, students with special education needs have not developed these skills and have not been given sufficient opportunity to feel effective and in control of their learning. Indeed, focusing on the development of self-advocacy in students with LDs requires that we resist our natural tendency to take over for them when we feel they need more support. When decisions are made on behalf of students with LDs, it is unlikely that they will feel that they have a stake in their own learning. And it is unlikely that they will then have the confidence to take risks or be proactive.

Explicit Instruction of Self-Advocacy Skills

Research shows us that self-advocacy skills should be taught explicitly and practiced in school settings, such as during individual education plan (IEP) meetings [5] or when requesting accommodations [6].

The skills vital to self-advocacy include:

  • having the vocabulary and structure to communicate academic difficulties,
  • knowledge of academic strengths and weaknesses,
  • knowledge of the results of academic testing reports (such as Psycho Ed and Speech and Language Reports) 
  • an awareness of required accommodations and services that are available,
  • knowledge of individual rights, and
  • the ability to request information, assistance, and accommodations when required.

[1] Mishna et al., 2011

[2] Field, Sarver, & Shaw, 2003

[3] Michaels, 1994

[4] Phillips, 2001

[5] Van Ruesen & Bos, 1994;

[6] Durlak et al., 1994;