Develop Self-Advocacy Skills in Students With ADHD

Helping Teens With ADHD Be Their Own ADHD Advocate

Being able to effectively self-advocate is a skill that will benefit children with ADHD through adolescence, into adulthood, and throughout their lives. Photo © Caiaimage/Robert Daly

Self-advocacy is an important, sometimes overlooked skill for students to develop. For a middle school age, high school age, and college age student with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), being able to effectively self-advocate can make a big difference in whether or not that student is successful in school.

Parents of children with ADHD spend a lot of time advocating for the needs of their children, partnering with the school and working collaboratively with other professionals involved in their child’s treatment.

Parents play a pivotal role in making sure their children get the resources and interventions that they need.  As a child grows and moves toward the teenage years, it is equally important that they also learn how to advocate for themselves. Being able to effectively self-advocate is a skill that will benefit children with ADHD through adolescence, into adulthood, and throughout their lives.

What Is Self-Advocacy?

The ability to self-advocate means understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, knowing how each affect your performance in various settings, and being able to communicate to others what you need to be most productive. Self-advocacy requires self-awareness.  For a student with ADHD, this means being able to explain how his or her ADHD interferes with functioning at school and what is needed to compensate or master necessary skills.

Having a clear awareness about who you are and how you operate, standing up for yourself in positive ways, and assertively advocating for your own needs is empowering, boosts confidence, and helps promote success.

Keys to Developing Self-Advocacy Skills

Develop an Understanding About Your Own ADHD.  In order to effectively self-advocate a student must develop insight about the different ways ADHD impacts his or her learning and what modifications or accommodations are needed to be most successful academically.

Know how you learn. You may find that you perform better when you are allowed to take tests in several timed sessions with breaks rather than focusing straight through. Or you may be most productive when you receive help breaking down and coordinating long assignments in more manageable segments rather than taking on this task independently. Perhaps you struggle to produce written work at the same rate as classmates and you benefit from a reduction in the length of assignments. Maybe you benefit from guided lecture notes that assist you in identifying key points in the material presented. When you know what works for you and what doesn’t work, you can be more effective at advocating for what you need.

Identify Your Support System.  A support system is comprised of the people in your life who you can go to for help and encouragement.  They are the people who understand you and the ways that you learn differently. A support system can include teachers, coaches, tutors, guidance counselors, mentors, parents – anyone with whom you feel comfortable and trust to help you express your needs and positively navigate any issues.


Practice, Practice, Practice. Learning how to effectively communicate and advocate for one’s needs takes practice. Enlist the help of someone from your support system. Plan what you will say in various situations and practice aloud in front of the support person. Anticipate different scenarios that may arise and role play how to respond to each. For example, if you are asking for a specific accommodation in the classroom practice describing the accommodation requested and explaining why that accommodation is needed. 

Take an Active Role in Your Education. Be a proactive student and meet with your teachers to discuss your progress. Be open to feedback. Work collaboratively to identify necessary supports. Learn about your educational rights, protections, and responsibilities. Make sure you have appropriate documentation to support requests. If you are receiving special education services or accommodations, attend and participate in meetings to develop your Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or your 504 Plan

Self-advocacy requires self-education, effective communication, and a good support system to help you along the way. The more you know about yourself, your needs, and your rights, and the more adept you are at conveying this information and educating others, the more successful you will be in your role as self-advocate. 

Related Reading: 
Challenges Students With ADHD Often Experience

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