Self-Advocacy for Adults with Learning Disabilities

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, teachers will learn about the importance of teaching self-advocacy skills to adults with learning disabilities. The lesson will cover several strategies for helping students gain independence in their everyday lives.

The Importance of Self-Advocacy

Students with learning disabilities in the elementary years through high school receive a lot of support from parents, regular and special education teachers, school counselors, and other school support staff.

When students transition into their adult lives, they often feel lost without the extra guidance. So, it's important that these students are taught self-advocacy skills to learn how to stand up for themselves, set goals, make decisions, and handle problems efficiently.

Let's look at some specific self-advocacy skills that you can teach your adult students to help prepare them for success in life.

Learning Style Recognition

Whether your adult students are working towards a degree program or just taking classes for recreation, it's important for them to identify their learning preferences and needs. You can start by administering a learning style survey that you can find online.

Typically, when students take a learning style survey, they read several statements and check off which ones apply to them. When they are finished, they tally up the scores in each category to determine if they are visual, verbal, auditory, logical, social, solitary, or physical learners, or any combination of the styles.

Having this information can help students advocate for their learning needs. For example, a student who discovers a preference for auditory learning might start tape-recording lectures and listening to them later, or they may start studying with soft music playing in the background.


What do you do when the neighbors upstairs throw loud parties on weeknights when you're trying to sleep? How should you react when a coworker takes credit for a project that you completed? How do you politely turn away that vacuum salesman who keeps showing up at your door? Is it okay to say 'no' when your friend asks to borrow money again?

Learning how to be assertive is a life skill that many people are uncomfortable with, whether they have learning disabilities or not. Assertiveness training includes topics like communication and listening skills, body language, and handling criticism.

Discuss different scenarios with your students and go over how to effectively handle them. For example, present a scenario where a person receives the wrong dish at a restaurant. Have three student volunteers act out different approaches to this situation. One student can handle the situation aggressively, while another student is passive and a third student is assertive. Have students reflect on which communication style best helps people get what they need.


Even when things appear to be running smoothly, problems can arise out of nowhere in adult life. It's important to have the necessary skills to resolve them. Let's look at some ways you may teach problem-solving skills in class:

Collaborative Brainstorming

Look for opportunities to engage the class in collaborative brainstorming activities about different types of potential problems. For example, what do people do when their car suddenly breaks down and needs repairs? How do they get to work and school?

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