What is ‘Self-Advocacy’ and how do we teach this to kids?

by Adina Levy

If you’ve heard the term ‘self-advocacy’ you might be wondering what exactly it means and how this relates to speech therapy.

Self-advocacy is all about speaking up or standing up for yourself. For what you want and need, and for what you don’t like or won’t accept.

It’s so important that we teach all children self-advocacy skills from a really young age, and model this for them too. This is even more important for disabled children, autistic children, neurodivergent children, or children from any marginalised group.

When you can speak up or act to show the world your needs and opinions, you’re able to exercise your right to choose a pathway in life that is safe and supportive for you.


What does self-advocacy look like?

Here are 4 ways that self-advocacy can appear in your child’s life. Consider these as things you can model, teach and encourage.


1️⃣ If you’re playing tickles or rough with your child and they say “no” or “stop” or send you a clear message that it’s too much for them, respect that and honour it by stopping. Same if you want to hug your child and they don’t want to at that moment. Respecting their preferences teaches bodily autonomy and tells your child that they have the power to choose what happens to their body


2️⃣ If your child doesn’t feel like playing with another child or playing a specific game, this is OK. Respect their choice and encourage the other child to respect their choice.


3️⃣ Encourage your child to choose what food they eat. Many autistic children have sensory challenges that can impact on food preferences and food choices. Honour their body and their choices. You can offer opportunities but let your child show or tell you their choice.


4️⃣ Support your child to understand and ask for their emotions, sensory needs, and their personal regulation strategies. Over time and with practice, we want to teach kids to be able to ask for the accommodations that they need to be happy, calm and thriving in their world. This may include things like asking the teacher if they can spend a few minutes in the quiet corner, telling parents they really need to move their body and go run outside, or asking other kids at their table if they can talk a bit more quietly.


Want more support in teaching your child self-advocacy skills?

The Secret Agent Society program has been around a long time and I’ve taught it for many years. Each time I teach it, I make important changes to align it more and more with a neurodiversity-affirming approach. This program is for 8-12 year old autistic children, children with ADHD, or neurodivergent kids all around Australia, who have challenges with emotional regulation and/or social interactions. 

Curious? Read more here and let’s chat if you have any questions so that you can work out if this program is right for your child and family!

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