School Advocacy

A 6-Step Plan for Teaching ADHD Self-Advocacy Skills

Learn how to help a student with ADHD understand and communicate their learning needs to teachers and parents because effective self-advocacy begins with self-awareness.

Teacher Standing in Front of a Class of Raised Hands

Self-advocacy is the single most impactful skill for college students with ADHD and learning disabilities (LD), and it’s also seldom taught in middle or high school. When children, adolescents, and young adults with ADHD learn and use the skills of self-advocacy — a set of behaviors to communicate that they are capable and competent, and willing to take on challenges — they almost always do better in school, in social activities, and eventually in the workplace. It’s among any student’s most powerful and effective tools because it unlocks barriers to learning and encourages independent success. It’s also fairly easy to teach and learn.

Self-advocacy is built on a foundation of self-awareness that exists only when students have a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Even young students (no later than grade 3) need to understand their ADHD and/or LD well enough to explain it to others, including teachers. You will know your child is practicing self-advocacy when you hear them say, “I really think I can do that! But I’ll do it a lot better if you can please write those steps on the board in addition to saying them out loud.”

Here are some practical strategies for helping a child build self-awareness and learn to self-advocate.

Self-Awareness Activities for Students with ADHD

1. Create a Success File

This is a collection of work done well, done extremely well, and not done well at all. Code the samples accordingly and use them as tangible evidence of the student’s abilities and capabilities — and the factors that contributed to poorer output.

2. Develop a checklist

To evaluate Success File work, develop a checklist that includes criteria like:

__I was interested in the topic
__I felt confident that I could do the work, with: a lot of help; a little assistance; or no extra help
__I was right about the amount of help I needed
__The work was as difficult as I expected it would be
__I planned for the right amount of time to finish the work
__I needed to explain to someone why the task might be challenging for me
__I knew why this might be difficult, but I worked through that myself
__Other factors that led to my success (or my lack of it)

[Get This Free Template: What I Wish My Teachers Knew About Me]

3. Develop a personal self-advocacy plan

Encourage your student to assume responsibility for and ownership of their future.

  • Help the student identify several personal goals (i.e. “go to college,” “become a nurse,” “work with animals”).
  • Encourage them to research or interview people who have achieved similar goals to find out how they did it.
  • Ask them to identify the factors and personal traits that contribute to reaching — or not reaching — the goal.
  • Help the student develop strategies to maximize their success factors and minimize potential impediments.

4. Create a Situational Action Plan (SAP)

Use an SAP to address any specific circumstance in which the student feels someone is depriving them of their rights or preventing them from reaching their goals. A good SAP will define the problem (i.e. “My teacher won’t allow me to give oral answers on a test, despite my verified problems with written expression.”), and enumerate strategies for addressing the problem. For example, the student can use role-playing to practice saying, “When I hear you say I can’t tell you what I know, it makes me feel frustrated because I know I could easily demonstrate my knowledge that way.”)

5. Encourage students to keep a journal

They should use it to record incidents of self-advocacy including a description of the situation, the skills deployed, an assessment of the result, and reflections on what they would do differently.

6. Understand It by Explaining It

Create a PowerPoint presentation or audio recording of self-reflection and self-advocacy to share with teachers, parents, and friends that does the following:

  • Explains their difference, challenge, or disability
  • Details the accommodations or services that have helped them succeed
  • Identifies who, or what factors, blocked their success and how the student moved forward

[Read: Putting Kids in Charge of Their Learning Needs]

The presentation can end with samples of work done well, accompanied by a brief explanation of each and suggestions for strategies to achieve greater success in the future.

ADHD Self-Awareness & Self-Advocacy: Next Steps

Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions

Access more resources from ADDitude’s Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions series exploring common learning challenges and strategies to sharpen core EFs at school.


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