"I Can" and "I Did"-Self-Advocacy for Young Students with Developmental Disabilities

By Kleinert, Jane O'Regan; Harrison, Elizabeth M. et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, November/December 2010 | Go to article overview

"I Can" and "I Did"-Self-Advocacy for Young Students with Developmental Disabilities


Kleinert, Jane O'Regan, Harrison, Elizabeth M., Fisher, Tracy L., Kleinert, Harold L., Teaching Exceptional Children


Self-advocacy and self-determination include the abilities to select personal goals, plan steps toward goals, assess one's progress, make choices, and selfmonitor and self-evaluate one's behaviors (Wehmeyer, Palmer, Agran, Mu/Miiig, & Martin, 2000; Wehmeyer & Sands, 1998). These are important skiUs in both current and future environments (?at?p? & Mirendo, 2006). Unfortunately, youth with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities often lack the opportunity to participate in the decisions that affect them on a daily basis (Thoma, Rogan, & Baker, 2001). Even when opportunities for self-determined behaviors do arise, youth with significant disabilities often do not display these behaviors in the context of their school and everyday routines (Carter, Owens, Trainar, Sun, & Swedeen, 2009).

How can their self-advocacy skills be strengthened? What can teachers and administrators do to support this growth? This article describes the stepby-step procedures utilized by the Kentucky Youth Advocacy Project (KYAP) team to train both students with disabilities and school personnel to increase self-advocacy and self-determination-and to support these skills with the development of strong communication systems.

Communication and Self-Determination: A Fundamental Relationship

An essential element for nearly all of the component skills of self-determination is the student's ability to communicate. Expressing one's choices, making decisions, asserting oneself, and evaluating one's own behavior are all primary elements of self-advocacyand they all require a mechanism for communication. There are only a few contributions to the self-determination literature from communication disorders specialists/speech-language pathologists (SLPs; Kleinert, 2007; Light & Gulens, 2000). Recent research indicates that students with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities-students who often have limited communication competence (TowlesReeves, Kearns, Kleinert, & Kleinert, 2009)- also "[evidence] limited knowledge about self-determined behavior, ability to perform these behaviors, and confidence regarding the efficacy of then: self-determination efforts" (Carter et al., 2009, p. 179). On the other hand, research has shown that individuals with disabilities who have strong self-determinalion/self-advocacy skills and those who can utilize augmentative communication systems to express themselves (Hamm & Mirenda, 2006; Kleinert et al., 2002; Wehmeyer & Palmer, 2003; Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 199S) have better postschooJ outcomes and reported quality of life.

In light of the importance of communication skills for self-advocacy and self-determination, school-based SLPs are valuable team members when initiating programs in this area. Light and Gulens (2000) noted that communication competence is necessary for an individual to become fully self-determined. Wilkinson (2006), in reviewing the responsibilities of SLPs who work with individuals with severe disabilities, noted that "the SLP's role is to maximize a child's ability to communicate his or her preferences. Consequently, the SLP may play a critical role in the effort to maximize each child's potential for self-determination" (p. 5). The American SpeechLanguage-Hearing Association (ASHA) has issued multiple position papers and guidelines that define and support the SLP's role in delivering services to students regardless of their level of disability (ASHA, 20OSa, 20OSb1 200Sc].

The Importance of Starring Early

It is easy to see how important selfadvocacy skills are for older students who will soon transition to an adult environment. However, current research and best practice also highlight the benefits of early self-advocacy training for younger children with disabilities as well. Young students in elementary and middle school, including those with autism and other developmental disabilities, increase their participation in academic work and decrease negative behaviors when they have opportunities for choice in the academic setting (Jolivette, Stichter, & McCormick, 2002; Moes, 1998). …

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