Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Teaching your kid to be his own champion
I am so used to advocating for Max in every which way that I've neglected one key thing: encouraging Max to advocate for himself. That occurred to me as I read through The Journey To Life After High School, an incredibly comprehensive report by AbilityPath that's worth reading no matter what your child's age.
The report, out today, gives an overview of life that lies ahead for our kids. It details our children's rights by law, what makes for successful IEPS, employment opportunities after graduation, housing and benefit options and legal decisions to consider, plus resources including a national directory of state agencies and a "What to do and when to do it" list.
There's a section on self-advocacy, too, which is when I had my lightbulb "Better start encouraging more of this with Max" moment. It's going to be a big mind shift for both of us.
"Teaching children to self-advocate is a hard lesson for both parents and children, regardless of whether the child has special needs," notes Michelle Ficcaglia, PhD, BCBA-D, Director of Children's Services at Community Gatepath in California. "Added to this, parents of children with special needs have been in the role of champion and advocate for their child during very tough and critical battles for much of their child's life.... It can be challenging to allow children to advocate for themselves. But starting young means you can teach children to self-advocate gradually. It is easy to find low-risk situations. These small successes will build confidence and comfort with self-advocacy."
Self-advocacy involves six key elements, the report notes:
1. Understanding your disability and being able to explain it through words, pictures or gestures
2. Knowing your rights that are protected by law
3. Speaking up for yourself and your interests
4. Asking for what you need in order to live day-to-day
5. Negotiating on your own behalf so your needs and wants are met
6. Utilizing the resources that are available to you.
This may seem just a wee bit overwhelming, but it boils down to baby steps. The report notes that self-advocacy can start with small tasks, like allowing a child to decide what he wants to wear in the morning or what they'd like to eat for breakfast. Choices help a kid feel empowered. The idea is to help a child feel confident in himself, and in his wants and needs in life. Perhaps there will only be so much a child, teen or adult can ultimately do in terms of self-advocating, but letting him try can help you better understand how far he can go.
I already give Max choices (what to wear, what to eat) but need to work on bigger ones—say, what do you want to do this weekend, where do you want to go for our next vacation. Max sat in on his last IEP—his idea. It ended up being a great thing, and I'm going to encourage this, going forward.
The other afternoon, I sat down with Max and added a button about having cerebral palsy on the About Me page on his speech app. Max knows he has CP, and is comfortable with it. Next up, we'll add a button that lets him explain what it is.
Baby steps, for helping a big kid come into his own.
Posted by Ellen Seidman at 8:05 AM