Advocating is an essential part of being a parent. When you find that your child has a learning difference, advocacy becomes even more important. From enforcing IEPs to navigating difficult experiences, parents of children with special needs spend a great deal of time acting as a voice for their children. 

As your child grows, it becomes equally important to teach self-advocacy. Teaching your child how to advocate on his or her own is a powerful skill that allows the child increased independence and self-confidence.

Empowering Children Through Self-Advocacy

A child who is able to self-advocate has greater awareness of his or her strengths and weaknesses.(1) This awareness makes it easier to ask teachers and, eventually, employers, for necessary accommodations. Teaching self-advocacy also involves teaching children where to turn if their requests aren’t met. For instance, a school principal, guidance counselor, or department head. 

Self-advocacy has positive effects on children’s relationships with friends and family, too. A child who has found his or her advocacy voice will be able to politely communicate their needs to loved ones more freely, as well as others. 

Developing Self-Advocacy In Children

Students react to the idea of self-advocacy in different ways. For some children, speaking up may come easily. For other students, especially students who don’t like speaking up or who are even embarrassed by their need for accommodations, the idea may feel impossible. However, there are many ways that you can help your child feel confident and comfortable speaking up for his or her self. 

Here are some ideas for helping you teach your child to self-advocate:

    • Don’t feel like your child is too young to self-advocate. It’s never too early to learn the building blocks of speaking up for oneself. In fact, talking with your child about learning differences, accomodations, and sharing needs with others early in life will help to positively shape their confidence and future success.
    • Praise all ways of learning. It’s important that students understand that thinking differently or learning in a different way doesn’t mean that they aren’t smart or capable. You might even research famous people with similar differences to show your child an example of someone with a unique mind achieving extraordinary things.(2) Actress Jennifer Aniston, for instance, has discussed her experience with dyslexia.(3) Gymnast Simone Biles has ADHD.(4) 
    • Explain to your child that everyone has something that makes them different from someone else. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Some strengths and weaknesses are more obvious than others. Share your own talents and challenges with your child to further help them understand that there is nothing shameful about having special needs.(2)
    • Help your child develop self-awareness. Self-awareness is important for quality social interaction and high self-esteem, but it’s also essential for self-advocacy. When your child is aware of his or her own talents, challenges, and needed accommodations, it’s easier for them to self-advocate. Understood has a helpful self-awareness worksheet for children.
    • Involve your child as much as you can in IEP planning. If appropriate, talk with your child about the IEP goals. Allow your child, especially an older child, a voice in his or her own plan whenever possible. 
    • Break down difficult legal topics into understandable parts. Go ahead and teach your child about the ADA, for example. Just break it down into something easily understandable depending on your child’s age. Knowledge of legal rights is an important part of self-advocacy.(1)


  • Practice problem solving and role play. You can use role play to help your child plan to solve a problem or prepare for a possible experience.(1) This gives them a chance to practice their developing self-advocacy skills in a safe space. 


Neurobehavioral Associates: Your Advocates in Columbia

Our highly experienced team regularly attends IEP meetings to advocate for students. After your child completes our neuropsychological assessment, we’ll accurately identify and discuss his or her diagnosis, strengths, weaknesses, and a plan for success. 

Contact us today to schedule an assessment for your student in Maryland.  


  1. Lee, A. M. I. (2019, October 16). The Importance of Self-Advocacy for Kids Who Learn and Think Differently. Retrieved January 31, 2020, from
  2. Morin, A. (2019, November 7). How to Talk to Your Child About Learning and Thinking Differences. Retrieved January 31, 2020, from
  3. Jennifer Aniston Her Battle With Dyslexia. (2019, September 24). Retrieved January 31, 2020, from
  4. Famous People with ADHD. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2020, from