Self-Advocacy Is the Key to Functioning as an Independent Adult
You don’t get anything in life, unless you ask.
This is the old, hard-edged version of what is still essential advice for any young person. There’s another phrase about a silver platter but let’s move on to modern times. The term is self-advocacy.
It refers to a person’s ability to effectively communicate and assert his or her needs. If those needs are special, so is the emphasis on this life skill.
Each year, we expect our students to transition to post-secondary education, adult programs and when feasible, a competitive job market. Therefore, we teach them to take charge of their education, and in turn, their lives. We want them to be successful and exercise their independence.
A Mentor’s Point of View
It is common for special education students to attribute their success to a relationship with either a mentor, a parent, or a member of the faculty or staff. We help them to develop full awareness of their disabling condition. As this ability, and in turn their self-esteem improves, so does their ability to self-advocate.
The most important tools we provide are the ones that allow them to navigate their own lives in adult environments. Learning to ask for help, solving their own problems and knowing their rights are highly desired results. Identifying their own needs, interests, and abilities are at the root of these results. However, they must also be able to identify social cues and learn which responses are appropriate for which settings.
There are several methods for teaching self-advocacy. One is role-playing. This is how special education students become familiar with situations that arise on the path to independence. They learn from practicing real-life situations, such as interviewing for a job or meeting with a doctor.
If they do not understand, we encourage them to ask questions. They won’t just find answers. They will find themselves accustomed to seeking help from others. However, this will also not let other people take advantage of them or control their lives. The hope is that they will research problems, ask questions, review information they receive and make informed decisions.
The Transition Plan
Every Individualized Education Program (IEP) includes a transition plan starting at age 14. When students get older, they join their own IEP team. They create goals and become part of the decision-making process. In order to transition to a post-secondary institution or adult services, there must be an exit plan with information and resources, such as documentation of their disabling condition, necessary accommodations, letters of recommendation, contact information of service providers and test scores.
Parents of students in mainstream education are constantly worrying about whether their children will be prepared for the real world. For our students as well, daily life is about nothing other than preparing our students for the real world. The irony is not lost on us. Self-advocacy instruction is one of the critical keys to our students being able to function as independent adults. An empowered individual has no limitations.
The Gateway School an private special education school in New Jersey
Our Mission at The Gateway School is to help all of our special needs students with the learning, social, language, and behavioral support they deserve. Our highly skilled staff are committed daily to helping each student to becoming the best they can while providing a safe and nurturing educational environment.
We would be more than happy to discuss your child’s specific needs and challenges, so please call us at 732.541.4400, or request a tour of The Gateway School located in Carteret New Jersey, just minutes off of the New Jersey Turnpike.
Chris Hoye, Principal-The Gateway School of Carteret, NJ