Promoting and Teaching Self Advocacy Skills in Special Education

The definition of self advocacy is “the action of representing oneself or one’s views or interests.” Self advocacy equals independence.

For many, these skills happen naturally by either learning through experience or watching others. For our students with disabilities, we need to teach them how to self advocate.

But how do we teach our students to self advocate in alignment with their IEPs?

Books. Books are the gateway to learning new skills and new information. Adapted books are modified stories or information texts that help students learn material. And adapted books are beneficial for any child, not just those with special needs.

Why Should We Teach Self Advocacy Skills?

You can’t see everybody’s challenges… and not all disabilities are visible. Self advocacy means individuals can say what works for them and ask for help when they need it.

Our students will not be students forever, and they need to learn how to be adults. Adults are functioning members of the larger community. Even neuro-typical adults need to learn these skills and be taught how to perform certain functional skills, or life skills.

Individuals need to learn how to speak for themselves to share their wants and needs. Think about how you yourself are truly the only person who knows what you want or need. Teaching our students how to communicate these and share their thoughts and feelings is so important.

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Because one day, no one will be around to help them make the right choices or guide them directly. They need to advocate for their needs or those needs will never be met. This is true in all relationships, work environments, social gatherings, etc.

Kayla S.

If we teach students how to self advocate, we set them up for success and ultimately teach them how to fly.

When it comes to IEPs and students with disabilities, there are even more specific skills (and information!) to teach our students.

I feel that over time and with practice students learn to feel empowered and less embarrassed about their need for accommodations and/or modifications. I’ve seen some of my upper grade students grow tremendously in self-confidence as they’ve begun to work on developing their self-advocacy skills.

Laura M.

“So that they understand options they have when their disability is taking over, because not every person they come into contact with them is going to know what works for them or what accommodations they have.”

Kelly D.

When we write IEPs, we look at the data to guide us. But we should also be including the student in the IEP process because the student can tell his or her IEP team, “yes I think this will work for me” or “no, I don’t like using that accommodation” or “Can we try this instead? I really like this!”

To get our students to a place of confidence when it comes to self advocacy during the IEP process, we have to teach them what IEPs are, why they have IEPs, what it means to have an IEP, and so much more.

Enter IEP Self Advocacy Adapted Books.

How to Use the IEP Self Advocacy Adapted Books

Students typically begin learning about their IEPs at transition age, which is age 16 per the IDEA (and age 14 in some states… age 12 now in Florida!). But it is never too early to teach students about themselves, their IEPs, and how to self advocate for their wants and needs. This adapted book bundle is intended to help you do just that – empower your students.

Each adapted book and reader uses real pictures, enabling the books to be used with any age of student. And I was very intentional with making sure that each had an activity aligned with the book, so you can take it one step further in helping the student be a part of the IEP process.


How you use these readers is really up to you.

My suggestion is to first meet with the child’s family and see what they are comfortable with. You can use the editable parent letter included in the bundle too! There are some families who are not quite ready for their child to know they have a disability or IEP, and it’s not our place as educators to overstep. This is where the positive rapport and open communication you’ve facilitated prior comes into play.

But what do you do if a family does not want you to explicitly teach their child about these topics?

Students can still be a part of the IEP process. You can easily ask them questions about their likes, dislikes, interests, preferences… all the things you already do. If you need a student questionnaire for this, check out the IEP Toolkit.

When it comes to using these readers, there also is not one set book to start with. It depends on the student.

Here are all of the book titles included:

  1. What is an IEP?
  2. What is a Disability?
  3. Parts of an IEP
  4. What is an IEP Meeting?
  5. Who is on My IEP Team?
  6. Why Do I Need an IEP?
  7. My Role in My IEP
  8. How Can I Self Advocate for Myself
  9. Who is My Case Manager?
  10. What Do I Do During My IEP Meeting?
  11. How to Set Goals
  12. What Are My Accommodations and Modifications?
  13. What Are My Related Services?
  14. What is a Transition Plan?
  15. How Can I Help With My Transition Plan?

Now obviously, if you have a first grader you won’t start with or use the What is a Transition Plan? book, right? You might start with What is an IEP? or Why Do I Need an IEP?.

Or maybe you have a 3rd grader who you’d like to help you set their IEP goals. You’d then choose How to Set Goals and maybe How Can I Advocate for Myself.

“This is an amazing resource that both my students and their parents/guardians love. It makes it super easy to discuss their specific needs and help them understand why they are being pulled to small groups in the special education setting. I am able to use this with a wide range of learners with varying instructional levels.”


Like I previously said, there is at least one activity included with each book to further practice this skill. The easiest way for me to tell you what they are is to list them out next to each title:

  • What is an IEP? – IEP scavenger hunt to find different parts of the IEP, includes suggestions for differentiation
  • What is a Disability? – taking a look at strengths and needs, and an activity to refocus needs on how our deficits are beneficial and help us
  • Parts of an IEP – Labeling parts of an IEP, includes suggestions for differentiation
  • What is an IEP Meeting? – True/False activity for what happens at an IEP meeting
  • Who is on My IEP Team? – includes an editable reader to make specific to each student with pictures of people on the IEP team, IEP team puzzles to match role to responsibility, and a graphic organizer to list out team member’s names and contact info.
  • Why Do I Need an IEP? – sorting activity, True/False, and graphic organizer to list what they learned from the book
  • My Role in My IEP – sorting activity
  • How Can I Self Advocate for Myself – 3 sorting activities
  • Who is My Case Manager? – graphic organizer for learning about case manager
  • What Do I Do During My IEP Meeting? – editable student slideshow for a student led IEP
  • How to Set Goals – editable sorting activity, and graphic organizers to list acc
  • What Are My Accommodations and Modifications? – editable sorting activity, and graphic organizers to list accommodations and modifications and share feedback
  • What Are My Related Services? – task box, and graphic organizer to list related services and who provides the service and for what amount of time
  • What is a Transition Plan? – sorting activity
  • How Can I Help With My Transition Plan? – transition surveys included

“This is the most amazing resource! My high schoolers and transition students have loved this so far and their parents are loving this resource and information as well. One of the best resources I have ever bought, that’s for sure!”

Alicia S.

“So excited to have something to go with my attainment “Who’s future is it”. I really feel this will help student have a better understanding of there IEP and that they are the most important part of it.”

Ms. C

As educational professionals, it is our duty to make sure our students are set up for further education, employment, and independent living… and truthfully, that’s exactly what the IDEA says IEPs are for.

How do you involve students in the IEP process? How do you teach self advocacy skills? Share in the comments below!




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