Self-advocacy, by definition, is “representing oneself or one’s views or interests” In relation to hearing, it is getting support to access information and improve communication. This support can be a seat away from the kitchen in a restaurant, a copy of notes for class, or asking a person to repeat something that was not clear. Self-advocacy develops as a child grows. Think of these steps as a path to successful self-advocacy.
Give little ones a choice. Have them pick between two good options.
“Do you want juice or milk?” “Do you want to wear the blue top or the green top?”
Choosing helps the young child be part of the decision-making process. Choosing helps the child listen for key words in a sentence. Choosing focuses the child’s attention. Choosing helps the child think about what is needed or wanted in a situation.
Prepare school-age children for questions. Grade-school children will ask a lot of questions.
“What’s that in your ear?” “Why do you have that thing (amplification) on your head?”
Children who are deaf or hard of hearing need to be able to explain to others their technology. They need to feel comfortable with the attention and see it as curiosity on the part of others and not as criticism. Parents can help this feeling of comfort by making the technology part of everyday life. Using technology is like wearing clothes. We wear it all the time, except for in the tub. Parents can talk openly about the technology to teach words and phrases. Parents can let the child explain the technology to new people.
Older children need lots of experience. Every new situation presents different needs to support access and improve communication. Parents can help their child see the difference by rating the situation.
“On a scale of 1-10, was the restaurant good for listening or bad? Why?”
“Would you give the park a √+, √, or √- for hearing? Why?”
Rating and determining what makes a situation a good listening environment help the child recognize things about a location and themselves that influence access. Maybe the child is tired and paying attention is hard. Maybe the room is big and empty and voices are hard to hear. Maybe the experience is new and the child does not know what to do. By knowing what makes listening easy or hard, the child can predict what needs to be changed to make it better. Self-advocacy starts with predicting needs for any situation.
Parents of teenagers need to “think out loud.” Self-advocacy is a decision based on the location, the needs of the individual, and the activity. Decision-making is a process. Children need to hear how adults go through the process of making a decision. Instead of saying, “We will stop at McDonald’s on the way to swim practice,” say,
“You have swim practice today after school. I have one hour to drive across town to practice. You need to eat before practice. We do not have time to go home and eat or go to a sit down restaurant. McDonald’s is on the road to practice.”
By voicing the process, the child understands many factors are part of making a decision. The child also sees that decisions require planning and are based on previous experiences. This ‘thinking out loud’ gives the child examples of how to solve problems and plan. These skills can then be put to use when advocating for better access and communication.
A child who is comfortable making choices, talking about needs, and going through the decision-making process will become a strong self-advocate.
Lynne H. Price NBCT
Lynne H. Price is a teacher with 37 years experience and the author of Steps to Success, a scope and sequence for developing self-advocacy skills, and COACHing, Successful Transition and Functional Skills Development. She speaks across the country on literacy, advocacy and teacher support.