Adopted children often have learning challenges and their parents can spend a lot of time fighting on behalf of their children. In order for a child to become independent, he/she needs to learn how to self-advocate, at least by the time he/she is in high school. Schools that specialize on learning challenges often focus on teaching self-advocacy skills, but children in public or other schools typically need to be taught by their families.
Self advocacy requires the following:
- Self awareness and knowledge of learning styles, academic strengths and weaknesses. Parents should talk to their children about how brains are wired differently and every person has different strengths and weaknesses. The goal is for the child to accept this, without any loss of self-esteem. For example, a child should understand that he may struggle with reading, but is great at sports or she cannot write essays, but sings beautifully. By middle school, children should know the name and description of their diagnosis.
- Awareness of available accommodations and services. Children should start attending IEP meetings in middle school and high school, so they are aware of what they can ask for and can see their parents modeling advocacy.
- Knowledge of individual rights. In an age appropriate way, children (and parents) should understand the differences between interventions, accommodations and modifications. Elementary schools will provide interventions, such as speech therapy or additional math instruction. High schools provide accommodations, such as extra time for tests or modifications such as writing a two-page history paper, instead of four pages. Colleges will provide accommodations, but won’t allow modifications.
- Ability to request help and accommodations. Parents should role play and practice with their child the specific language the child needs to use to ask for help. The ability to recognize when they need help and be able to ask for it is an extremely useful life skill to develop.