Self Advocacy Helps with ADHD

Learning how to self advocate is important for people with ADHD.  Self advocacy can give you the  opportunity to speak for yourself  regarding your needs and help to secure the necessary support in work, school and your personal life.  This looks difference throughout different stages of life.  Whether you are the parent of a child with ADHD or an adult with ADHD, I am happy to share tips with you to help you develop self advocacy skills.


Self advocacy for ADHD can begin in elementary school, but it will look different as students progress through school, with their needs and with their own comfort level.  It is important to remember that while your child is a minor, you need to be their main advocate and self advocacy does not change that role for parents in my view.

Elementary School

If your child is in elementary school, you can encourage self advocacy by having them talk to their teachers about smaller issues or needs.  For example, if your child is confused about a new math concept, start by having your child talk to his teacher about it instead of emailing the teacher right away.  Your child might forget to ask the teacher.  If you are concerned that this might happen, you could call or email the teacher to let him know that your child will be asking him a question the next day.  I have found that teachers appreciate this approach and can help to prompt the child .

Middle School

When your child reaches middle school or junior high, there are more ways that you can build on the self advocacy skills you started building in elementary school.

  • If your child uses email, she can send an email to her teacher instead of it coming from you.  Encourage her to review the emails with you before sending them so you can discuss the best way to communicate her needs.
  • Talk to your child before an IEP or 504 meeting.  Review what is currently being provided or requested and find out what he would like to see added or even deleted.  Perhaps something that was previously put in place does not seem necessary any more.  You still make the final decisions here, but involving your child in these discussions can be empowering.
  • Some experts recommend having your child attend the actual IEP or 504 meeting.  I am hoping to interview someone for a future article on this topic so stay tuned.

High School

The high school years are, of course, a significant transition time for teens.  This is true for self advocacy with ADHD as well.  Continue helping your child to build on the self advocacy skills from elementary and middle school.  If your teen is nervous to talk with adults about her interests and needs, it will be helpful to have these conversations before reaching college.  Practicing these conversations earlier in life can improve both skill and confidence going forward.

  • Guidance counselors can be great resources for your student to talk with about their needs.  The counselors may even be able to suggest ways of working with certain teachers.
  • Coaches often work with teens to help them role play different ways to self advocate with teachers, counselors and even their own parents.  This practice can be valuable for students especially if the concept of self advocacy is new to them.
  • If your child is planning to attend college, visit the disability services office during your campus visits.

College Students

In college, students have less outside structure and less parental involvement than they did in high school.  While this is a natural progression, it is also a legal one since college students are typically no longer minors.

  • The first step that college students can take is to contact the disability services office on their campus.  If they aren’t sure how to contact the office at their school, they can do an internet search for “disability services” and the name of their school.
  • Your child can talk to professors and teaching assistants about the support they need.  Even with accommodations from the disability services office, conversation with professors and teaching assistants will ensure a common understanding among everyone.
  • Encourage your child to learn about their personal learning style and how they can maximize your strengths in school.


Adults with ADHD also need to self advocate for themselves.  I am not talking about whether you decide to disclose an ADHD diagnosis to an employer.  That is a highly personal decision that is dependent on many different factors including your personal preferences, your employer and your supervisor.  With self advocacy, I encourage adults with ADHD to clearly identify specific needs that they want to ensure are met in the course of their work.

  • One aspect of self advocacy for adults is to choose work that is interesting to them and that keeps them motivated.
  • Another is to identify the supports that they need to be successful in their work.  If regular check-ins with your supervisor will be useful for you, then ask her if you can schedule regular meetings.  They can be as short as 15 minutes and can help you stay on track with priorities.
  • When you have identified something that you would like to implement at work, think through how you would implement it and how you can approach your supervisor about it.  Chances are that you can tie the idea to higher productivity and that will make it a win win for you and your employer.

What’s Next?

I have only scratched the surface of self advocacy with this article, but I hope I have prompted you to start generating your own ideas about how you can teach self advocacy to your student and how you can implement it for yourself.

How do you self advocate if you have ADHD?  Share your ideas here to help others.


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5 thoughts on “Self Advocacy Helps with ADHD

  1. All these tips are wonderful. As a mother of 3 boys adhd ,add and advocate for them for yrs. Oldest 21 ,18 and 13. Two graduated only with my fight for them, hard!! The giving them information on adhd and them acting as if I’m aintrusive mom (to much) F grades?!Taught them to advocate respectfully. 504, IEP’s! It doesn’t make a difference if the school and teachers don’t understand or are not educated in this and blaming our children for “their” laziness!!To much hassle. I need to find out how I can do something to help this situation, it is my calling to help my last son in high school to be understood and not labled.I have fought hard 11 yrs to get really no where, but schools and teachers disliking me and my children because of my being a good parent and making them be accoutable for their plans. Got OCR involved this yr out of dispair, not much help either! Please help I’m a tired but ready mom!! It’s not over after school either!

  2. Hi there,
    I had the same problem with school system, as above mother. all during My son shcool, who was idenetified as a ADD student. I never got any help from public school system except calling me every week & complain about him & forcefully put him in a so called special program with some other kids which they put him in a class with some other kids, who they had so much of other severe problem, which was not related to Add problem. So I know in public school system at least in Toronto, Ont. there is no real help for these kids except to isolate them & treat them like a piece of garbage.

    Now my son is in his early 30’s, & thanks god me my husband were successful in business he is running one of these business for his earning, but his huge problem is when it comes to build up any relationship with other people. He easily get so angry with his verbal abusive language through any body, who talk against his idea or criticize him. It could be a friend, a girl friend, me as his mother, his brother,his father. That’s why he ends up very lonely. When he snaps over something he remembers & talks about all those horrible & insulted time when he was going to school.
    Now I know past is past & I can’t go back. If I had this much information, which, I have today, certainly I could have change so many things around for him. Now my BIG QUESTION is how I can help him today!!!! He doesn’t want to see any psychologist either.
    Thanks for your advise
    A stressed out mother.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story. Your son might benefit from learning more about ADD and the strategies that can help. I think he would benefit from the many resources at There is also a virtual ADHD conference coming up that could be beneficial. You can find details at and are also good resources. Of course, if he is interested in coaching, I would be happy to talk with him so he can decide if it would be a good fit for him.
    Best wishes,

  4. my 26 year old son has adhd. since finishing high school he has had a worker find employment for him. with government cut-backs his disability worker was laid off.. he was given another worker who does nothing for him,i think she isn’t a disability worker. through no fault of his own his last two jobs were one was hit by an arsonist and the other through government cutbacks. we are finding it exremely difficult to find another job. he has been out of work since the middle of december. i would appreciate any information you can give me.