Self-Advocacy and Self Determination Skills for LD Students: Career Counselors Can Help

By Niki Baerman and Abiola Dipeolu

Importance of Self-determination and Self-Advocacy Skills

Developing self-determination and self-advocacy skills in students with LD is vital to functioning in the post-school world. Self determination is the extent to which students assume responsibility for their own goals, accomplishments, and setbacks.  Self-advocacy refers to students' ability to promote and articulate their own need. Students who have acquired these skills have an increased ability to be independent decision maker, navigate the job search process, articulate their strengths and weaknesses, and take the leadership in helping employers develop needed modifications for their job environment. While in school, students with LD often rely heavily on external sources such as parents to help advocate on their behalf and as such, do not acquire these skills as easily in comparison to students without LD. Although parents and school personnel are an integral part in aiding students throughout their high school education, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal for many students with LD should be independence. Traditionally, special educators have spear headed the promotion of these skills among students with LD. But a closer examination of the component of the skills suggests that career counselors could play a greater role promoting these skills due to their unique training and skills in helping students attain vocational independence.

How Career Counselors Can Help

Career counselors are underutilized in assisting students with LD develop self-advocacy and self- determination skills despite the fact that they have many tools that could benefit students' ultimate goal of post high school independence. After high school, finding an appropriate college, career, or vocation is a major component of becoming independent. The same skills that are necessary to obtain and maintain a job are essential in helping students achieve independence. Career counselors can assist students develop these skills by utilizing the following assessments and intervention strategies:


  •  Interest inventories

Research demonstrates that students with LD often select careers based largely on their exposure from family and friends. However, the use of interest inventories during the career counseling process can help these students consider other career options that they have not yet been exposed to.  This strategy will encourage students to expand their options and avoid crystallizing too quickly before exploring all possible options.


  • Identify career-related barriers

Students with LD often experience barriers resulting from several years of others' involvement, especially involvement by parents. Often this can be translated into an external locus of control when involved in the career development process. Utilizing the External Conflict scale of the Career Thoughts Inventory (CTI) could help to uncover the extent to which students are independent of significant others, and hence able to function in college and in the workplace.


  • Learning style assessment

The diagnosis of a LD usually points to specific academic areas that students have difficulty with, but often do not inform the student of how they learn best. Though learning style assessment is often associated with learning in the classroom, it can also be useful in assessing learning style in the work setting.


Skill-based Interventions

  •  Experiential activities

Students with LD often have misconceptions about what actual job environments are like and often have trouble thinking about how their abilities and challenges would affect them on the job. By helping these students find opportunities for job shadowing, obtain internship experiences, and opportunities to try out different career possibilities before making a commitment will go a long way to help students determine if that type of work is suitable for them.


  • Skills training programs

In comparison to students without LD, students with LD often do not fare as well in the workforce. As a result, these students often obtain low-skilled positions with lower rates of compensation. If the student is not interested in pursuing post-secondary education, then a job skills training program may offer them training that will make them more marketable.


  • Generalizing knowledge about LD to a work environment

Once students have a solid understanding of how their LD affects their school and personal life, it is helpful to aid students in an exercise to discover how their LD may affect a work setting as well. Through an exercise using real or brainstormed examples, the counselor can help the student think of ways to modify a work environment to meet their needs.


  • Identifying and requesting accommodations/modification for disability

Once a student understands how their LD may affect their workplace performance, they want to ask for accommodations in the workplace to meet their abilities and challenges. Asking for such modifications in the work environment may be intimidating. Helping students role play possible conversations with superiors may be helpful in developing their self-advocacy and self-determination skills.


  • Job search skills

Helping LD students become familiar with the resources available to them and how they can utilize these resources to their advantage is an integral part of helping them become independent job seekers. In addition to skills to find possible job opportunities, it is important to educate on the general processes of interviewing and hiring. Mock interviews with career counselors will help the LD student's confidence.

Students with LD remain relatively detached in creating and implementing post secondary successful transition possibilities. Ending student under-involvement is essential to their attainment of post-school transition success. This can be accomplished by helping them develop self-advocacy and self-determination skills. Given the importance of these skills in career development applications, career counselors are in a unique position to facilitate students' skill acquisition, thereby ensuring students' successful post-school outcome. 

For more comprehensive intervention strategies for helping LD students in the career development process, readers are directed to Dipeolu, A.O., & Cook R. (2006). Building career confidence: Strategies for helping students with learning disabilities attain career self-efficacy.  Canadian Journal of Career Development, 5, (2) 37-48.

Niki Baerman is a Counseling Psychology doctoral student at the University at Buffalo. Her current research interests include family support and students with LD. She is excited to have recently joined Dr. Dipeolu's research team and is currently involved in a project regarding external conflict in high school students with LD. nbaerman@buffalo.edu

Abiola Dipeolu is an Assistant Professor, Department of Counseling, School, & Education Psychology, University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York. Her research interests include career development of people with disabilities, career interventions for individuals with ADHD and LD, and school to work transition issues. adipeolu@buffalo.edu

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