Self-Advocacy in High School and College

Health Writer

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.

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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

Self-Advocacy in College

The college years are transitional years between youth and adulthood. During this time, parents do not have the same rights to speak up for their children. College administrators and professors will see your child as an adult, one that must make adult decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions. It is no longer possible for parents to intervene when there are problems or to speak up on their child's behalf.

The following steps can help a college student make sure they receive accommodations or work with individual professors to allow for their ADHD:

  1. Make a file of the documentation you will need. Have the high school make copies of the last IEP or Section 504. Get copies of your diagnosis from your doctor. Keep these papers in a safe place until you go to college.

  2. Know your rights. All students have the right to participate in educational environments free from discrimination and you have the right to request reasonable accommodations.

  3. If possible, the summer before you go to college, make an appointment to talk with your college advisor and the Disability Services Office. Discuss what accommodations you feel you need and why you feel you need them. If it is not possible to do this during the summer, make an appointment with them the first week you are at school.

  1. Set up an appointment with each professor. Normally, professors are willing to help and are interested in seeing their student succeed. Talk with them about your disability, how it impacts your learning and discuss what accommodations might help you to be more successful in their class. If you have a professor that is not willing to work with you, contact the Disability Services Office rather than getting into a dispute with the professor. Let them help you work it out.

  2. Update your list of strengths and weaknesses (see high school self advocacy list), as well as your learning styles. Talk with the college advisor about this list and ask what services are available to help you work on developing your weaknesses into strengths.

  3. Take care of yourself and your disability. If you require medication, be sure that you have medication available and that you show up for any medical appointments.

  4. Find out what tutoring services the college offers. Don't wait until you are failing a class to look into tutoring. If you are taking a class that you struggled with throughout high school, consider using a tutor right from the beginning. Otherwise, keep the information available and as soon as you find your grades slipping, request a tutor.

  1. Keep records of what accommodations you have asked for, what you have been granted and keep copies of all paperwork you hand in to your advisor, your professors or the Disability Services Office in regards to your condition and note the date your provided the information to them. Write down the names of people you speak with for future reference.

  2. Make a list of important phone numbers, if you have a cell phone, program them into your phone. If not, keep a list hanging in your room. The list should include the extensions for your professors, the Disabilities Services Office, the medical office, the pharmacy, the tutoring center, counselors numbers, educational advisor's numbers and any other number you may need.

  3. Check into support groups on campus that may help you deal with the daily struggles of managing your conditions at college.

  4. There is a difference between being assertive and being combative. Understand the difference and be assertive, but not aggressive.


Strock, Margaret (1996). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. from national Institute of Mental Health Web site: National Center for Learning Disabilities

(2007). Being Your Own Advocate. from National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. Web site:

(2004). Being Your Own Advocate. from canadian Mental Health Association Web site:

advocacy. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved May 11, 2007, from website: