5 Ways We Can Help Students with Disabilities Develop Self-Agency
As educators and caretakers, we all want our children to lead fulfilling, vibrant lives. Although children with disabilities may require more initial assistance from adults than able-bodied peers, they still deserve every opportunity to lead independent lives. This may materialize later in life as moving into their own home, working a job they find rewarding, advocating for themselves with confidence, or simply maintaining their mental health day-to-day. We as allies can ease transitions for children of all physical, developmental, emotional, or learning capacities by prioritizing these big ideas.
Teach self-advocacy in schools for special education students.
In addition to academic and functional benchmarks, special education programs should help children reach a threshold of confidence, self-reliance, and engagement. Educators should demonstrate that students have agency over their decisions: that we are all individuals worthy of love and respect.
Special education students should be celebrated when they participate and work to better themselves. Activities with intrinsic value to students, such as goal-setting, should be at the forefront of special education programming.
Personalize and diversify children’s learning experiences.
Every mind develops differently. One child may require minimal distractions and independence, while another may benefit from hands-on demonstrations or exercises. Schools should offer instruction that suits a variety of needs, drawing upon methods proven by child psychology.
Special education students should have the ability to build individualized learning plans with the help of family, educators, and clinicians. IEP strategies should center around each child’s holistic well-being as agreed upon by their care team.
Find new ways to measure success in the classroom.
Teachers can measure able-bodied and/or neurotypical students’ progress through straightforward assessments, but results often fail to reflect each child’s true potential. In special education, academic success only comprises part of a bigger picture. Will the student be happy after graduation? Will they be able to feel secure in their decisions? Benchmarks should reflect what we want for our children beyond the classroom.
Teach students how to apply themselves in the real world.
Special education curriculum should include career training wherever possible. Students need to learn interpersonal skills and self-efficacy: how to communicate with coworkers, how to maintain a schedule, how to balance work and fun. By handing them real-world responsibilities, educators better engage and prepare students to lead independent lives.
Listen to the disabled community.
We as allies should all prioritize the voices of those within the disabled community. Disabled activists, writers, scholars, and medical professionals can speak to experiences that we will never truly understand. By amplifying disabled leaders and thinkers, we can convey to special education students their role in creating a more just future.