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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

How to Start the School Year with Self-Advocacy

At my son’s last IEP, he was invited to participate by presenting a slideshow titled “All About Me.” In the slideshow, he had prepared answers to his teacher’s questions about his needs. My son added photographs from our family albums to illustrate his answers.

Playing with  legos

I’m really good at Legos.

His teacher’s questions were:

  • Who are you?
  • Who is your family?
  • What do you like to do?
  • What are you good at?
  • What do you need help with?
  • What do you need to be successful in school?
  • What do you do outside of school?
  • What do you do to help at home?
  • I understand that autism is…

My son was confused by some of the questions.  He was confused about why he had to miss math class to attend a meeting.  But he loves doing any project on the computer.  Over several days he was able to think about each question and formulate his own answers.  Sometimes I had to re-phrase a question for him or jog his memory by reviewing photos with him.  He finished it, and he was proud of the results.  It was his first step into the world of self-advocacy.

Is self-advocacy a pipe dream for your loved one?  It doesn’t have to be.  The expression of basic needs is a life skill that can begin with alternative forms of communication.

Here are some ideas to develop self-advocacy skills.

1. Picture list

A list of pictures or photographs is the simplest way to tell teachers and therapists about likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams.  First, model the behavior by collecting pictures that are meaningful to you and share them with your loved one.  Then your loved one can collect his or her own pictures and share them with others.  In addition to advocating for his or her interests, the activity will build upon emerging speech and social skills.

2. PECS app

The Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) is already widely used in schools and therapeutic settings to assist with communication.  Some apps, such as Proloquo, include pictures for “I want” and “I need” so that a person can state exactly what is needed.

3. Make it a game

Rule the School Self-Advocacy Board Game  is an iPad app for teachers and students that opens up discussion about situations in which it is necessary to speak up for oneself.  It is a very simple board game that takes 10 minutes or less for 2 players.  Originally designed for students with hearing loss, most of the game challenges also apply to students with other special needs.

4. Worksheet

In elementary school, my son was sometimes given a self-advocacy worksheet in which he could fill in the blanks:

  • My name is _____.
  • I like ______.
  • At school I need _____.
  • My favorite activity at school is _____.
  • At school I don’t like to _____.
  • At home I like to _____.

5. All About Me page

Love to work

Strengths:
I love to work.
I love to make people happy.
I always do my best.

My son was so intrigued by his first slideshow that he kept re-writing it all summer long with different details.  At the end of the summer, I sat down with him to revise it into a one page summary of his needs for his new teachers – similar to a resume or curriculum vitae.  I gave him 8 subject headings and asked him questions in each subject.  He typed his own answers and chose a photo of himself for the page.

The subject headings were:

  • Strengths
  • What I need help with
  • Language Skills
  • Reading Skills
  • Academic Skills
  • Memory Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Personal Information

My final question to him was, “Why are you typing this page?”  Under the heading “Personal Information,” he wrote, “I typed this page because I want people to know that I have autism.”  He printed it out and put it in his backpack for the first day of school.

Karen Wang

Written on September 10, 2013 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"
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