Building Blocks for Self-Advocacy

“It’s my turn.”

“Please give me space.”

“I need help understanding this.”

“I’d like a cheeseburger with french fries.”

What do all of these phrases have in common? They are all expressions of self-advocacy – the ability to express one’s needs, make choices, and communicate preferences. Self-advocacy goes beyond just words; it is a critical skill that empowers an individual to navigate life with confidence and independence.

I believe that self-advocacy is one of the most important skills we can teach someone. Whether it’s expressing a desire for personal space, asking for help to understand, or simply ordering a favourite meal, self-advocacy is the key that opens the door to a more fulfilling and enriched life. In this blog, I’ll discuss some specific self-advocacy skills that I believe are important to teach and act as stepping stones to more complex communication.  

Communication is Key:

At the heart of self-advocacy is effective communication. Whether through vocal speech, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), sign language, gestures, or facial expressions, the first step is to identify and use the most suitable communication system for the individual. If a child lacks a system that allows them to communicate fully, consider exploring other ways that could allow them to communicate with more detail. 

Setting Boundaries:

Empowering a child to say “no,” “stop,” or request a break when necessary is a foundational skill for self-advocacy. Parents may worry that encouraging their child to say “no” might lead to challenging behaviour or defiance. The ability to set personal boundaries, however, can protect someone from experiencing situations that are uncomfortable and help build healthy relationships with others. Parents can support these skills by acknowledging when their child has set a boundary and honouring requests in a safe and reasonable way. It may not be possible to honour every request (e.g., you need to wear a seatbelt in the car), but it can still be acknowledged and validated (e.g., “I know you don’t like your seatbelt. It can feel tight. You can take it off as soon as we get to the store.”). 

Asking for Help:

Encouraging a child to express when they don’t understand something or need help is another important aspect of self-advocacy. The ability to ask for help promotes problem-solving which is an essential skill for those in more independent environments, such as school or the workplace. Parents can support their child by providing assistance when requested and making a point to offer just enough support to allow them to continue independently. By refraining from taking over the entire task, parents can encourage resilience. 


Privacy is a crucial element for ensuring personal safety and maintaining healthy boundaries with others. Discussions about privacy often don’t occur until an individual is older, but teaching simple practices, such as closing the bathroom door or requesting a bathrobe after a shower, can lay the groundwork for a child’s understanding of personal space. By introducing these small changes, parents can foster an early respect and appreciation for privacy.

For more information on how you can help your child become a successful self-advocate, contact us at