I first met Rachel for an assessment when she was about 9 years old.  A spirited, warm and outgoing girl, Rachel was easy to engage.  My testing confirmed that Rachel was dyslexic.

Following the evaluation Rachel  came to our center and received multisensory remediation for a couple of years.  Rachel made nice progress, but that was just the start of the story.

As Rachel matured into middle school and high school, I would get reports from her mom about Rachel’s ability to advocate for herself.  Rachel was the kind of student who was not afraid to speak up, to go up to teachers after class and talk to her teachers about what she needed even if her accommodations were written in a 504 plan.

She would say things like, “I’d like you to know that I have a learning disability – dyslexia – and my 504 plan has certain accommodations, like being able to use my phone to read on Learning Ally and to have extra time while taking tests.”

Rachel went on to college and later to graduate school. She did wonderfully, largely due to her self-advocacy, which got even better over time.

The updates were all consistent.  “Rachel was never shy in talking to her teachers about her dyslexia – she was clear about her strengths, but she never hid from her weaknesses and the things in class that might help,” her mother informed me.  “The teachers were almost always receptive and open to what she had to say and were happy to help out.”

Even though the accommodations were written in the 504, my sense is that Rachel’s skill in talking to her teachers brought these accommodations to life in a way that just having them on a document could never accomplish.  Rachel’s self-advocacy shifted the odds better in her favor.

In my work with parents and kids, I often refer to Rachel as a model of self-advocacy in terms of how to proceed moving forward in middle school and beyond.

Just this week, for example, I met with Christina, a fun 8th grader struggling with reading, spelling and writing.   I said to her,  “One of the things you nee to think about is being able to speak up, to advocate for yourself – politely, of course, – in order to help your teachers know what works best for you.”

Christina, laughed, “Oh, don’t worry about that.   I’m really good at speaking up.  I’m not shy.”

I laughed too.  I knew I had another Rachel on my hands and that Christina was going to be just fine.

Takeaway Point

Even though 504 plans document the accommodations, encouraging the maturing student to speak up and not be shy about what  he/she needs, changes the odds considerably.