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Empowering Special Education Students Through Self-Advocacy

Self-advocacy is a person’s ability to effectively communicate and assert his or her needs. It is an effective tool, and people who self-advocate are more likely to experience success at work, at school and throughout their lives. Teaching self-advocacy to special education students is especially important as they transition to post-secondary education and a competitive job market. Teaching special education students how to take charge of their education and their lives can help them be more successful as they exercise their independence.

Why Does It Matter?

Studies show that special education students who complete college attribute their success to a relationship with either a mentor or a member of the faculty or staff. The students develop full awareness of their disabilities, their ability to self-advocate improves and they maintain positive relationships.

Teaching self-advocacy involves helping students gain the tools to navigate their own lives. They are learning to ask for help, to solve their own problems and to know their rights. An important aspect of teaching special education students is communicating the importance of understanding their own needs. Students need to be able to identify social cues from others and learn which responses are appropriate. They also need to identify how they learn and understand their needs for any specific accommodations.

How Do You Teach Self-Advocacy?

Teaching self-advocacy involves several methods. One method is role-playing. Teaching special education students how to handle different situations is a good way to prepare them for situations that may arise as they strive to become more independent. Have them practice their responses to real-life situations such as interviewing for a job or meeting with a doctor.

Encourage students to ask questions about anything they do not fully understand. Good self-advocates are not afraid to seek help from others, but they also do not let people control their lives. They research problems, ask questions, review the information they have received and make informed decisions. When students question why something is happening, they are learning to look out for themselves.

Make a Transition Plan

Part of every special education student’s curriculum is an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that includes a transition plan. As students get older, they become members of their IEP team. They are able to create goals and be a part of the decision-making process. Students should also have an exit plan that goes with them to a post-secondary institution. The exit plan has information and resources the student will need to successfully transition to the next phase of their lives. The exit file includes but is not limited to documentation of their disabilities, necessary accommodations, letters of recommendation, contact information of service providers and test scores.

Students Who Can Self-Advocate Are Independent and Empowered

Special education students who receive self-advocacy instruction are more likely to succeed as independent adults. They will have the confidence and knowledge required to navigate college, the job market and life. Students who are taught self-advocacy can identify their weaknesses, ask for help and make decisions with confidence. Building this skill takes years and practice, but in the end an empowered individual has no limitations.

Learn about the Lamar University online M.Ed. in Special Education program.


LD OnLine: Transition and Self-Advocacy

Special Education Advisor: Ten Tips to Build Self-Advocacy Skills

Diverse Education: Rutgers Study: For College Students with Disabilities, Success Linked to Mentoring, Self-Advocacy and Perseverance

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