King, Beverly, Teaching Exceptional Children
Helping Students of All Ages Develop Self-Advocacy Skills
The fear of self-disclosure can prevent people with disabilities from discussing their wants and needs. Often, they want to remain anonymous and appear "normal" (Michaels, 1994). One student with learning disabilities stated that she didn't consider herself as "special ed." She said that the disabilities were no one's business and if they needed information, they could discuss it with her mother or her resource room teacher (Michaels/. This student was having a difficult time learning how to be a self-advocate.
This article presents a research-based strategy (see box, page 68, What Does the Research Say?") complete with techniques to facilitate the self-advocacy process, leading people with disabilities toward a greater sense of self. The techniques apply across age groups. Educators can use these steps with anybody who needs to improve in self-advocacy, regardless of the person's disability.
The ASSERT Strategy
This strategy uses a mnemonic to help people recall the steps in the self-advocacy process. The ASSERT steps are as follows:
Awareness of disability
State strengths and limitations
Evaluate problem and solutions
Role play solution
Try it in the real setting.
Awareness of Disability
Awareness of the disability involves self-identification and reflection. Here are developmental learning activities for children and young people:
In the very young child, awareness is closely aligned with the evolving selfimage. As teachers, you can use activities to enhance this process, such as body tracing, "me" puppets, "me" puzzles, and "me" picture booklets and storybooks (Borba, 1989).
As the student gets older, you can help them make comparisons between themselves and people in the environment, such as peers. This results in an enhanced self-awareness. You can use activities like self-portraits, timelines, life stories, "me" banners (Borba, 1989), video presentations, and counseling, if needed.
In the adolescent, self-awareness may include self-reflection and search for self-identity. Activities or resources to assist in this stage are professional organizations, videos or documentaries (on disabilities), educators, readings, counseling, and medical reports.
The ability to state the nature of the disability involves some degree of verbalization. Again, here are developmental learning activities:
At the preschool level, verbalization is limited. In addition, young children may not be fully aware of differences that exist between people. You can use activities that stress the uniqueness of all people, such as songs, stories, and special centers for "people of the week."
As children develop an awareness of diversity and differences between individuals in society, students may begin to verbalize the nature of their disability. Activities to develop this process include class discovery books, peer interviews, books on diversity and disability, and mapping techniques to illustrate student characteristics.
The adolescent may choose to consult with a knowledgeable person about the disability and participate on a group panel or in a video on disabilities. An important activity that will foster growth in this stage is participation in the individualized education program (IEP) conference. Educators and parents should encourage young people to take an active role in the IEP meeting and in teacher conferences from an early age.
State Strengths and Weaknesses
In stating strengths and limitations, students must become aware of their individual strengths. Here are developmental learning activities:
Teachers can set up situations for preschoolers in which strengths can emerge. Picture books that illustrate "things I can do," as well as "things I need to work on" are helpful. …