Self-Advocacy & Youth Leadership Resources

  • Self-Advocacy & Youth Leadership Resources

    One important change as students move from high school to adult life is the shift from parent / team decision-making to the student being responsible for decisions.  Even when a student has a legal guardian or shares decision-making with an adult, many of the daily decisions and responsibilities for adult life will rest with the student.  This is why all students with disabilities need to be taught how and when to share information about them, and how to make good decisions on their own.

    Fortunately, there are many research-based curricula and opportunities for developing youth leadership and self-advocacy skills.  Here are some of the skills that students and IEP teams should discuss:

    Employment Activities

    • how to complete applications & how to gather & share needed information with employers on applications & during interviews
    • how to maintain business appropriate dress, talk & social conduct in the workplace
    • how to solve problems & receive critical feedback from an employer / co-worker
    • how to complete work-related tasks and self-evaluate the quality of one’s work accurately

    Instructional Activities

    • how to complete academic work thoroughly and independently (including homework!)
    • how to ask & get answers to questions about academic work appropriately (including homework)
    • how to ask for help when needed and receive help appropriately
    • how to request accommodations and to explain how specific accommodations help with learning
    • whom to talk with when learning problems arise
    • how to work effectively with groups of peers

    Community Skills

    • how to develop and maintain friendships
    • how to plan social activities for oneself & for others
    • how to use the Internet (including email & IM / chats) for communication & research
    • how to manage emotions effectively
    • how to navigate dating and romantic relationships effectively
    • how to say no
    • how to care for children, parent, and interact safely & appropriately with children
    • how to get from one place to another
    • how to budget money and manage a bank account (and ATM or credit card)
    • how to manage a schedule and plan time; and,
    • how to apply for services from adult service & community service agencies (DDS, MRC, Mass Health, SSI, housing assistance, food & fuel assistance, etc.).

    Here are some resources & curricula that can help with building these skills:

    • Whose Future Is It Anyway? A planning, decision-making & self-advocacy curriculum.
    • Making Healthy Connections teen group: A group in Boston for students with any type of disability to learn how to manage health care, access transportation, and address a variety of topics related to transition.  Teens and parents meet separately, and the parent component is optional, but a great way to get information while your teenager makes friends, gets some training, and has fun! 
    • For more information, see The parent organization for this group is Mass Partners for Youth with Disabilities, and they also run a fantastic mentoring program. See their website at for details.
    • A fantastic, on-line resource for self-determination training, chatting, and connecting for youth with all kinds of disabilities.  There are also links for parents and educators that include a TON of tools, resources, and information. 
    • Kids as Self Advocates: A wonderful grassroots movement that supports teens with disabilities to take leadership in their own lives & decision-making, and encourages school and community leadership.  A great organization for students to join and get involved in.



    • Easter Seals Youth Leadership Program - Easter Seals Youth Leadership Network is a place for youth and young adults, between the ages of 14 and 26, to find peers and mentors with disabilities who can relate to the unique challenges of growing up with a disability.



    • Youth Advisory Council for Special Olympics-A State YAC is a group of youth comprised of members with and without intellectual disabilities from across the state. This group works together throughout the year to educate, motivate, and activate youth to become agents of change in their communities and advocate for the respect, inclusion, and acceptance of all people, regardless of abilities. The State YAC uses a wide variety of tools to communicate effectively, such as e-mail, conference calls, Face book, state summits, and state rallies. The goal of the State YAC is to reach out to other youth to help carry out social justice for all people.