The ABCs of Advocacy for Children With Special Needs (page 3)

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

What can impede positive advocacy skills?

Parents should be careful not to

  1. work at cross purposes and to make sure their only goal is for the educational needs of their child.
  2. try to avoid giving their child different messages. The child must know that his parents believe that he will benefit from your efforts.
  3. use the child's problem to take the focus off other critical unresolved family issues.
  4. be intimidated by systems and authority figures.

Helping your child to self-advocate

Children should be at least eight years old and able to self-observe, self-record, self-cue, self-reinforce, and relax. Help them to learn when they are in a difficult or overwhelming situation through discussion, and provide practice in learning how to make decisions. For example, if your child recognizes that she is not understanding a classroom discussion, teach her to ask the teacher for clarification, during the lecture or after the class. Your child can also, during appropriate times, ask for peer assistance. A child that is aware of her own strengths and weaknesses can also ask for breaks, extra review materials, or advances assignments to help her overcome weaknesses in some areas. It is easier for a child to advocate for herself when she knows she will be supported by her teacher. Make your child aware that the teacher understands her needs and is there to help.

Rehearse possible situations; role-play possible scenarios (such as "what if").

Model and explain your actions.

Help children learn how to be assertive in asking for assistance and their designated assistance tools.

Help children learn when it's appropriate to be assertive and when it's not appropriate.


Department Office of Vocational and Educational services for Individuals with Disabilities (2002). Special Education in New York State for Children Ages 3-21: A Parents Guide The New York State Education. Albany , New York.

Horwitz, Susan (1994, December) Talking To Your Children About ADD: Teaching Children to Self Advocate. Retrieved from Newsletter/1994(Winter vol.). The Greater Rochester Attention Deficit Disorder Association Rochester, New York.

Siegal, Lawrence, M. (2004). Nolo's IEP Guide: Learning Disabilities. Nolo. Berkeley, Ca.

About The Authors

Kimberly S. Williams, M. A., a neuropsychology postdoctoral fellow at the NYU Child Study Center, evaluates children and adolescents for a wide range of learning problems, develops recommendation to accommodate their educational needs and helps parents work with the school district.

Susan Schwartz, M.A. Ed., is the Clinical Coordinator of the Institute for Learning and Academic Achievement at the NYU Child Study Center.

About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at

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