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Chester Finn is the Chair of Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered, a national organization of self-advocates. He is also special assistant to the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. He has been an advocate for people with disabilities since 1992. Here he shares his responses to questions about youth and self-advocacy.
What kind of supports do youth need to learn self-advocacy skills? What can families and schools do to help them learn these skills? Building self-esteem is an important part of teaching youth self-advocacy. Participating in organizations such as YMCAs/YWCAs, 4-H, and scouting can be important in building confidence. I remember participating in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and 4-H. I loved those activities and they helped me become confident. I won awards for growing the biggest watermelon and best garden. These awards and activities built my self-esteem and taught me leadership skills. Competition is good for young people; it builds character. We tell youth with disabilities that it is okay to lose as long as they tried. But we need to teach them to play to win. Participating in sports, arts and crafts, and church activities are other ways youth can build self-esteem.
Parents should let youth take chances and experience different activities. When I was younger I wanted to go downtown by myself. My parents were reluctant and I had to talk to my parents for months before they allowed me to do it. But once I convinced them and showed them that I could do things independently I gained their trust and had more freedom to try things.
Further, parents have to listen to their children to understand what they want. I met a mother who was making future plans for her daughter in a way she thought her daughter would like. When her other daughter told her that her sister wanted something different, she realized that she didn’t really know what her daughter with a disability wanted. It surprised her because she had lived with her daughter all her life and hadn’t really understood what she wanted. This story illustrates to me that it is very important to keep talking to young people to understand what they want for their future.
Another issue that might arise for some younger individuals is that they are uncomfortable with their disability. They may consider it “uncool” to advocate for their own needs. They don’t want to stand out in the crowd in school or “hang out” with other youth with disabilities. Youth need support to understand that everyone is unique and that differences can be good.
Chester Finn may be reached at 518/434-4592 or Chester.firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information on SABE visit www.sabeusa.org.
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Retrieved from the Web site of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota (http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/192/default.html). Citation: Gaylord, V., Agosta, J., Barclay, J., Melda, K. & Stenhjem, P. (Eds.). (2006). Impact: Feature Issue on Parenting Teens and Young Adults with Disabilities 19(2). [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.]
The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/192/192.pdf.
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