Teachers tell me my dyslexic daughter is a good self-advocate, and I know it’s an important skill. By high school, self-advocating isn’t just knowing what you need and asking for it, which can be hard enough. It’s also planning and managing one’s self, teachers, specialists, the testing center, scheduling, technology, paperwork, and stress — all while being subject to skepticism and accusations of an unfair advantage.
Self-Advocacy and Accommodations
After all that, sometimes the requests are denied, deemed not to be “reasonable accommodations.” Some people ask, “Does she really need that? Can you prove it beyond a reasonable doubt?” Without accommodations, she’ll get by, some people say, as if merely getting by is a valid educational goal.
Self-advocacy at school is mentally and emotionally exhausting; it’s extra work for students in an area that can already be difficult. As a parent of a student with learning differences, it feels like the added burden of having to be your own advocate is just another barrier, another test of worthiness.
Consider the analogy of a student who is failing in school but just needs eyeglasses — a tool, an accommodation. With glasses, the student can see more clearly and begins to succeed. It’s accepted without question as to whether or not they really need the glasses, or if the glasses are a reasonable accommodation. Nobody says they’d “get by” without those glasses.
The Burden of Self-Advocacy
Students who can be accommodated with corrective lenses don’t have to self-advocate. Nobody asks for formal documentation, eye test results, or the qualifications of the optometrist. Nobody needs to know if the diagnosis is an astigmatism, myopia, or hyperopia. Nobody insinuates that the glasses give an unfair advantage or that the student should just practice seeing without glasses. Nobody would say the student can wear glasses sometimes, but not when taking a test or taking notes in class.
In order to “see,” my child needs tools such as voice-to-text and text-to-voice as well as other accommodations. Yet, she has to leap over many hurdles to get there. Yes, my daughter has learned to self-advocate at school, but I wish she didn’t have to.
- Parent of LD High School Student
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