How can you be a self-advocate?
Sheree started to shake. Her teacher was putting everyone into groups of four for the science project and she felt like she wanted to scream. Science was her favorite subject and she was excited about her idea to measure bacteria in different kinds of ice. But what if the group has another idea. She hated working in groups. It was ok to work with a partner. It was not ok to work with three other people. Everyone wants to talk and it’s too noisy. It also feels stressful when everyone gets mad and fights about how to do things. Sheree asked her teacher if she could do her own project, but her teacher just said, “No. Everyone has to work in a group.”
Sheree didn’t know what to do. She felt sick and stayed home from school the next day. Her parents made an appointment with Mrs. Li the school counselor. At the appointment, Sheree told Mrs. Li she was frustrated because she wanted to do the science project on her own but her teacher said she had to work in a group. Mrs. Li talked with Sheree about advocating for herself by using a strategy called the 4W Map Strategy.
What is the 4W Map Strategy?
The 4W Map is a problem solving strategy that asks four important questions to help define the problem and its’ importance, and then determine possible solutions until one is found that makes the most sense. Sheree answered the four questions and found a solution that worked for her.
- What are you concerned about? Sheree was concerned about working in a group because of the noise and all of the arguments between the other students.
- Why is this important to you?Sheree told her teacher she wanted to get a good grade on the project, but it was hard for her to tolerate working in the group because they were so noisy when they worked together.
- What are possible solutions? Sheree had a list of possible solutions that included working alone on her own project, staying for only part of the group work time, or doing her part by working away from the group in a quieter area of the classroom.
- Which solution are you advocating for? Sheree was hoping she would have the option to contribute her part of the project by working in a quiet place if the group work became too stressful.
After Sheree talked with her teacher they agreed to her solution that she would have the option to work in a quiet area. Sheree found that just knowing she could leave the group reduced her stress and frustration and she was able to stay with the group for longer amounts of time. She was happy with the finished project and everyone in the group earned a good grade. Sheree was proud of herself for being a self-advocate and finding a solution that worked for her.
Why is it important to teach self-advocacy strategies?
Participating in school activities and completing assignments can be challenge for many students especially for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is important that all students learn to be assertive about identifying and communicating when they are confused, stressed, or unsure about how to participate in an activity. Once they can identify the problem, the next step is to self-advocate by identifying and following through with an effective solution.
When teaching these skills, it is important to provide opportunities for students to:
- See self-advocacy skills modeled by adults and peers.
- Practice self-advocacy skills at school and at home.
- Get specific feedback from teachers and adults when they practice self-advocacy.
Practicing what to say and how to say it when advocating for a solution is a valuable life skill that can be used in school, at work, and in social relationships throughout the life span. As students have success self-advocating, these skills will become a natural part of their repertoire at home, at school, and in the community.