Thursday, September 26, 2013

Self Advocacy

I recently spoke with a mom who asked me how to teach her child self advocacy skills.  Here is what I told her:

1.  Allow your child to say "no".  For some reason, we get uptight when children say "no" to us, but they should be allowed to say it too.   Their feelings are just as valid as ours, even if we don't understand why they are feeling that way.   Remember that one person's "oppositional" is another person's "self advocate".

2.  Don't just allow "no", but respect "no".  ESPECIALLY over trivial things.

3. Watch for signs that your child is overwhelmed and encourage them to take a break.  I give my child a "I need a break" card (for times that just saying it is too hard)  and he can turn it in whenever he wants, no matter how many times he needs to use it.  In this way, he will learn that he CAN take a break when he needs to, and his anxiety is lessened.  This is important to use at school too.  Your child's teacher should be on board because teaching self advocacy skills is probably one of the most important things to help your child be successful at school.

4.  PRESUME COMPETENCE . This is huge.  Presume that your child wants to do well.  I promise they do because all children want to do well, but not all children know how (and it's not their job to just "figure it out", it's your job to help them by trying to understand them).  Instead of saying "That child is out of control!", remember "that child is struggling."  I think one of the biggest parts of presuming competence is to remember that behavior is always communication.  ALWAYS.

5.  Be wary of therapies that promise your child will be "indistinguishable from his peers" or that rely too heavily on compliance training.  Your child can not love themselves when they are constantly being trained to be someone else.  Eye contact can be faked (I look at people's noses), stimming should not be discouraged, as it has a valid purpose.  All kinds of communication should be respected and accepted.  If the therapies you are using are not building your child up, then they are going to tear him down.

6.  Remember that your child is not your project.  You can waste their entire childhood trying to fix something that isn't broken, or you can build an amazing relationship based on love, respect and acceptance with the beautiful child that you have.

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