Self-advocacy is a hot topic in education right now. Self-advocacy consists of being empowered to speak and communicate effectively about one’s needs and being able to achieve one’s desired outcome.

The term, “self-advocacy”, has long been associated with students who receive special education services, especially those with a cognitive impairment. Yet being able to represent and assert oneself is an invaluable skill for all human beings despite the fact that little attention is paid to it in most classrooms. Teaching individuals the skills required to successfully speak up for themselves should not be done solely within the domain of special education, as people of all ages and abilities benefit from possessing these skills.

An essential part of being able to survive and thrive in our demanding world is being able to represent oneself and one’s interests with efficacy and poise. People who can and do speak up for themselves in a confident and cogent manner generally have better outcomes and greater opportunities for success. We can all benefit from increasing our self-advocacy skills; here are some ways in which to do so:

Know your Goals and Know your Rights: Effective self-advocacy happens when you know what you want as well as what you are legally entitled to. Self-awareness is critical to understanding what you want and need out of a given situation. Getting in touch with yourself and developing goals that are specific and attainable are critical first steps towards successfully advocating for yourself. Do your research so that you know what legal rights you have in the context of the situation. When advocating for yourself, presenting a knowledgeable and reasoned argument will always give you a better chance to fulfill your desired goal(s).

Believe in your “Voice” or Message: Many individuals who successfully advocate for themselves in many areas of their lives are those who are confident in their goals and believe that their voice or their message has inherent value. We are scared to speak up for ourselves when we lack confidence in ourselves and in our desired outcomes. Believe in yourself! People will be able to see your confidence or lack thereof, so even if you have to, fake it until it becomes real!

Practice, practice: The old adage that “practice makes perfect” is true in this instance! (Read more about how “over-practicing” essential skills can increase overall mental efficiency here: http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/20/dont-just-practice-over-practice/)
Practice speaking up for yourself in front of a mirror, with parents, siblings, and family that you feel comfortable with, record yourself on video and play it back for feedback, and lastly, contact a tutor or coach who can help you develop positive and effective communication strategies.

Self-advocacy skills are critical for teenagers and adults who want to be successful and realize their goals effectively. Know what you want, practice good communication skills, do your research, and deliver your message with confidence! Sometimes these skills come naturally; sometimes people need concrete experiences to learn these skills. People who know how to assert their needs effectively also know when to seek help from a professional teacher or coach. Practicing effective self-advocacy is an art and a skill, and when mastered, anyone can achieve their desired outcomes.