The Advocacy Bug
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By Derenda Timmons Schubert, Ph.D.
Pacific Northwest Children's Services
Waverly Children's Home
3550 SE Woodward Avenue
Portland, OR 97202

As the school year has begun, I hear more about parents becoming Advocates for their children. This is one of the important functions parents play in the lives of their children. Siblings also catch the Advocacy Bug. The Advocacy Bug may take different forms for siblings, but they encounter opportunities at home, at school, on the playground, and in the community. Advocating for a brother or sister may come naturally to some siblings or may be uncomfortable for others. Kids usually watch their parents as role models for advocacy. If kids observe their parents speaking openly about their brother or sisters special needs, they will learn ways to express and explain themselves, as well as, learn that it is OK to be assertive.

The Sibling Need and Involvement Profile (SNIP) developed by Thomas Fish, Frances Dwyer McCaffrey, Katrina Bush and Susie Piskur is a guide to discover and explore how siblings can be involved in the lives of their brothers or sisters. Within this helpful guide the authors offer tips for promoting and teaching advocacy to siblings. It is suggested to encourage siblings to share their ideas and opinions on how best to advocate for their brother or sister. During Sibshops we often role play opportunities to advocate for brothers and sisters. You could try this at home. Think of a situation and play different roles with different responses. Create ideas and 'scripts' for the kids to use.

Praise siblings for their efforts and cite examples when they were advocates. Sometimes we are advocates and don't even know it! Point out things you have done to speak out or stand up for your child with special needs. Talk about how it felt and what motivated you to speak up. Make sure the sibling understands the difference between supporting their brother or sister and doing things for them that they could do for themselves. Look for books or movies that provide examples of advocacy and discuss them.

I often hear siblings discuss how they stood up for their siblings at school or in the neighborhood. The most frequent response the kids offer is, "He's just a kid! Leave him alone!!" So, the next time you see an opportunity for advocacy (I'm sure you can find many!), think of it as a chance to teach your child about being assertive. After all, this is a skill they will use in many areas of their lives all throughout their lives.