For most of your child’s life you have been advocating for your child and making decisions for him or her.  As children age parents need to help them advocate for themselves to the best of their ability.  When you youth turn 18, regardless of their disability, they are recognized as adults.  This is sometimes a hard time for a parent as a child becomes an adult and is becoming more independent.  First remember that at age 18 unless you have guardianship, your young adult is recognized as an adult and is the client when using services of adult agencies.  It is the youth that now signs the IEP and has meetings individually with the Vocational Rehabilitation counselor, medical professional and other agencies.  If your son or daughter wants you included he or she can sign a release form for their parents to become involved but they may choose to not involve their parents, and that is their right.    Our goal is to teach independence to our sons and daughters, to see how well they can function on their own.  For involved parents, independence is not always easy.  It is hard to let go and turn the process over to our youth.  Don’t wait until the last moment and assume your son or daughter can run his or her own meetings.

The most important time to start the transition process is when your child is an adolescent.  Youth will need to advocate for themselves to the best of their ability.  Teaching self advocacy is not a single conversation, but rather a process that will evolve over time.  It is important to teach self-advocacy skills and to practice those skills.   Learning self-advocacy is a key step in becoming an adult.  It means the individual with a disability can take responsibility for himself or herself and can describe his or her strengths, disability, needs and wishes.  Helping youth to develop a sense of self will aid in the transition process and will develop a skill that will benefit an individual throughout his or her lives. By the age of 16 your son or daughter should participate in their own IEP Meetings and practice self-advocacy skills.

You need to note that part of self-advocacy may involve knowing what to disclose about his or her disability this is called self-disclosure.  It is important that an adolescent with disabilities be told he or she has a disability.  Self-disclosure is simply to open up, to reveal or to tell, to intentionally release personal information about you for a specific purpose.  A great place to practice self-advocacy is in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings.  Self-advocacy begins with the individual learning about his/her disability, and strengths and weaknesses.  A great resource is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).  Jan provides a short summary of different disabilities and a list of accommodations that might be helpful in the workplace or school.  Once a youth understands his or her disability, practice having a youth introduce themselves, give a synopsis of his or her disability, and his or her interests, strengths, and desires for the future.

Some additional preparation would be to discuss the format and purpose of the meeting.   Why is it important to your youth?  Who will be present at the meeting and what are their roles?   Will vocational rehabilitation or other agencies be present?   What are the agencies mission and role?  Could the youth help write the agenda with the special education teacher or an agenda of their own with the parent?  Teach your youth to ask for explanations if he/she does not understand something.  At the end of the meeting review what the team has decided.  No matter what type of schooling, employment or community life option that you’re adolescent chooses, self-advocacy will play an important role in getting there.

For more help:

The 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for … – NCWD/Youth

Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
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Tips for Teens: Use Your IEP Meetings to Learn How to Advocate for Yourself