Chapter 2: Learning To Advocate For Yourself
Your voice is probably one of your most powerful gifts. Growing up, it is common for our parents, older siblings, babysitters, and grandparents to act as our voice, but in high school, you have to start to become the one who acts as your own voice. Becoming a self-advocate can boost your confidence and help you get exactly what you need to help you succeed. As you go through high school, don't be afraid to ask your parents for help advocating, and when you do, carefully observe what you do so you can self-advocate if the same situation happens again. Here are some steps to help you become a better self-advocate:
- Take a big deep breath. We all know that feeling when we are nervous and our heart starts racing. When our hearts start to race, it is common to breathe too fast which doesn't allow your blood to exchange oxygen with your tissues. This can make you feel light headed and crampy--which will just make you more nervous. Taking a deep breath, will not only calm you, but help make sure you are getting adequate oxygen exchange and that you don't hyperventilate.
- Step outside the situation. Sometimes it can be hard to remove yourself from a situation you feel passionately about but it is also important to understand the other side of the story. If you are mad that someone has brought something near by you that you are allergic to, before you get too upset, assume that they do not know about your allergies. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Make sure you know what you want to change. To use the same instance of the person bringing allergens near you, when you tell them that what they are doing is dangerous, make sure you tell them what you are expecting them to change. You should tell the student, "Please sit at another table with your pizza." instead of, "Ew, I'm allergic to that!" Why? because if you expect someone to make a change you have to tell them what you want to change. Along the same lines, don't expect people to make unreasonable changes for you, such as to have the cafeteria stop serving pizza all together.
- Prepare what you will say. Preparing what you will say before you actually say it will help make sure that your request makes as much sense as possible and will insure that you will be able to get what you want.
- Let others speak. Just like you have the right to be heard, so do others. Let them speak and listen to what they have to say, just as you would expect them to listen to you.
- Don't expect immediate change. Change takes time and getting people to learn new rules can take time too. Be patient, but if results aren't happening quickly enough, don't be afraid to follow up or offer people gentle reminders through the use of signs and announcements (for example signs in the cafeterias to request people clean up after themselves).
- Get help from an adult if needed. Many times getting new rule put in place needs to involve administrators. Don't be afraid to ask higher adults for help if your problem is not being solved.
- Understand your food allergies. The only way to be able to advocate your needs to others is to be able to understand your needs yourself. Here are some resources to help you understand exactly what food allergies are if you feel like you could use some brushing up on you food allergy knowledge!