Self-advocacy, an important skill in spark*

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In previous posts, we’ve talked about the four phases we address with every skill in spark* and spark*EL.

First, we teach children to become aware of their abilities to self-regulate. Then we focus on the need to modulate their behavior, thinking and emotions in different places and at different times. Third, we help children to become more resilient in their use of self-regulation so they can cope better in everyday life. The last phase is teaching them self-advocacy.

This is another unique features of the spark* model.

Sometimes, being able to cope isn’t enough – there’s too much going on, the child is tired or feeling overwhelmed. Children need to know they can help themselves. They need to learn there are alternatives to having a meltdown, running away, or hiding.

In the spark* model, we help them choose healthier alternatives BEFORE things become overwhelming.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

I recall a child whose kindergarten teacher flicked the lights on and off in her classroom when the children got too noisy. This fellow used the same strategy to signal to his classmates and teacher that he was having difficulty coping with the noise level. He hopped up on his own and flicked the light switch. I was thrilled by his self-advocacy skills. He could have done all sorts of less appropriate things (like melting down) but he chose a positive alternative. Although the teacher wasn’t with his taking control of the light switch, this provided a wonderful opportunity for his teacher to show him other ways to advocate for himself.

Besides developing resilience, self-advocacy is a critical life skill for our children. They need to learn they can cope but, when things get to be too much, they can do something to help themselves.

All four phases used in spark* and spark*EL  (awareness of ability, awareness of need, resilience, self-advocacy) are critical to any learning model.


When is it SELF-regulation?

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Often adults end up playing too big a role in children’s self-regulation. They act as the children’s frontal lobes and unknowingly regulate him by prompting and staying close to him.

One study found that education assistants spend 86% of each day within three feet of their assigned students (1) – hardly helpful for developing self-regulation in children.

The ‘self’ part of self-regulation happens after children become aware that they can control their bodies, thinking and emotions, learns skills and strategies for doing that, and have opportunities to practice them. This means teaching children step by step and removing yourself so they can make their own decisions. That’s definitively easier said than done. It comes after careful teaching and practicing.

We believe strongly that you don’t ‘just throw children into water and hope they can swim’. We need to work on helping each child through four main steps:

  1. Ability – “I Can Do It” – children learn they’re able to use the strategies
  2. Need – “I Need To Do It Here and Here” – children are helped to figure out when and where they should use the strategies
  3. Resilience – “I Can Do It Even When …” – we need to help build their resilience so they can cope in challenging situations and still use their strategies
  4. Self-advocacy – “I Can Help Myself By …” –  we need to teach children to advocate for themselves so, if something becomes too challenging, they have ways help themselves (other than melting down).

By working on executive functions, we help bring each child’s knowledge and intentions into action. The child becomes a master of his own frontal lobes and executive functions.


(1) Giangreco, M. F., & Broer, S. M. (2005). Questionable Utilization of Paraprofessionals in Inclusive Schools: Are We Addressing Symptoms or Causes? Focus Autism Other Dev Disablilities, 20, 10–26.