The ultimate goal of advocacy is for the child to learn to request needed services. This is a long, gradual process, but it should begin at an early age. At some point in time, the child will become an adult and will be fending for her own rights and needs in the community.
Language of Self-Advocacy
The language of self-advocacy is related to needs and wants. First of all, your child will learn which things she would like to have (wants) and which things she needs and often has a legal right to have. “Please” and “thank you” are important add-ons to advocacy language. A child with beginning language skills might simply start with “Help, please.”
Your child's IEP or 504 plan will outline the modifications and accommodations of her school program. She has a legal right to them. However, things do not always happen smoothly just because they are written down. Reminding a teacher politely is always great self-advocacy. Chances are there has been an oversight or misunderstanding of what is needed.
Here are some examples of self-advocacy language for a child with a learning disability.
“I tried to read these instructions, but I am stuck. Would you please read them for me?”
“Please read that test question again.”
“I am supposed to go to Mrs. Smith's room to take my test. May I go there now?”
“May I get a multiplication chart for this assignment, please?”
A high-school-aged child might politely talk about the modifications and accommodations on her IEP. A college student might request reader services through a designated office of support services.
Encourage your child to start being her own advocate as soon as she has mastered some of the language. (A preschooler might be able to ask for help unzipping her book bag.) Sometimes she might ask for something that is one of her IEP goals. Maybe the physical therapist is working with her on zipping things. Your child may not get help with the backpack zipper when she asks because school staff members are working with her in that area.
Sometimes children ask for things that are not advocacy requests. An example is the child who is deaf asking her interpreter to go to her locker between classes. Does she have special needs? Sure, but her communication needs do not prevent her from going to her locker.
Sometimes your child might make a perfectly legitimate request in a polite manner, only to be refused. Perhaps your teen requests that a test be read (and that is listed on her IEP), but she is told to read it on her own. Be her advocate and talk with the teacher about your teen's IEP.
Rest assured that your child's school is not out to work against you or to deny your child her rights. Calm discussion as your child's advocate will address most, if not all, of your concerns.