Self-Advocacy in High School and College

For people with ADHD, it is important to learn how to become self-sufficient and find the best ways to manage your condition.  Self-advocacy will help ensure your ability to accommodate your health care needs and live successfully with ADHD.

By Eileen Bailey

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, advocacy is “the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea or policy.’  For people with ADHD, advocacy becomes an important issue.  Parents stand up for their children, attending parent teacher and IEP (Individualized Educational Plan)  meetings in school.  They talk with psychologists, educators and medical professionals to make sure their child receives the best care and the best education possible.  College students advocate for themselves, talking to professors and school administrators to receive accommodations to help them succeed. 

In order to best advocate for yourself, or for your children, you must first understand ADHD and how it impacts your life.  You must acknowledge your own needs and determine ways in which those needs can be met.  Advocacy helps you to become self-sufficient and allows you to depend on yourself rather than those around you.  Advocacy helps you to find ways to improve your life.  Advocacy helps you to control your own destiny and continue to move toward your goals.

Self-Advocacy in High School

High school students are new at self-advocacy.  In elementary and middle school, it was probably their parents that attended all of the meetings a school and talked with medical professionals.  But as teenagers, they are not very far from having to take over the job themselves.  The high school years are a good place for parents to begin teaching self-advocacy skills.  These skills will help them throughout their lives, at college, in the workplace and in relationships. 

The following tips can provide a starting place for teaching your teen how to stand up for themselves:

  1. Have your children attend any IEP, Section 504 or other meetings you may have with school personnel.  In the beginning ask them to watch what happens in the meetings and take notes that you can discuss later.  It may be several meetings before your teen feels comfortable enough to speak up.  That’s okay, you want them to start to understand the process.

  2. Talk to your teen about their diagnosis.  Do they have any co-existing conditions such as Learning Disabilities, Depression or Bipolar Disorder?  Discuss how each diagnosis impacts their education and their lives.  Have them think about how they best learn: do they need visual cues, do they learn best by writing everything down, and would they benefit from taping a class and listening to the tape again later?  Understanding this can help them both in college as well as in work.  Some children benefit from keeping a journal of what learning strategies they used and what results they achieved.  Looking back at this may help them to discover how they best process information.

  3. Talk to your teen about their goals in life.  Ask them to be as specific as possible and to write them down.  Goals should not include things such as “I want to do better in math class” but should include specifics such as “I want to pass every test in math” or “I want to get an 80 this quarter in math.”  Your teen can break down goals if they tend to lose interest quickly.  They can create weekly or even daily goals to begin with.  In addition to writing down the goals, your teen should write down what steps they are going to take to achieve the goal and what parents, teachers or doctors can do to assist them.  Have your teen discuss these goals with you and if necessary, request a meeting with teachers to discuss how they can help.

  4. Just as important as short-term goals are long-term goals.  Teenagers need to have a sense of what they want to accomplish in life. Are they looking to go to college?  Do they intend to begin working right out of school?  Do they know what career they would like to enter?  Writing down long-term goals helps your teen put their life in perspective and helps them tailor their education and teen years around accomplishing these goals. 

  5. Talk to your teen about their strengths and weaknesses.  They will benefit from understanding what they are good at.  This might help them to shape their long-term goals if they are not sure what they want to do in life.  Discussing their weaknesses is not to point out what they do wrong but to help them understand how ADHD and other conditions might impact their lives.  Ask which of their weaknesses they would like to work on to develop it into another strength.

  6. Help your teen write down their suggestions on what will help them to achieve both short-term and long-term goals.  Listen to their ideas and try to incorporate some of them into your daily lives. 

  7. Set up periodic meetings with your child’s teacher to discuss their progress and to modify plans if needed to help keep them on track.  Encourage children to attend these meetings on their own. 

  8. Discuss with your teen the importance of self-advocacy and how they can use these skills in college and work. 

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