Self-Advocacy: Skills for Kids

When I worked in a school-aged daycare centre, I regularly cared for kids with asthma. Though their asthma was rarely on the front of their minds, fortunately, I saw these kids learning to manage their asthma, one thing at a time. For kids, these little steps—like acknowledging their asthma with their friends, and bringing us their inhalers on field trip days unprompted—may seem natural, but being able to explain their asthma and understanding what they need to stay healthy or respond to asthma symptoms, are big steps towards self-advocacy.

The kids I worked with all had varying levels of self-advocacy skills, and, that was dependent on their current age, when they were diagnosed, and probably to an extent, the severity of their asthma. I had the kids who would happily bounce up to me with their inhaler and spacer in a Ziploc bag before a field trip (and sometimes ask me if my inhaler was in the bag!) and then skip off to play, to the recently diagnosed kid who couldn’t recognize his symptoms whom I had to step-by-step walk through using his rescue inhaler with a spacer.
I’m not a parent, but, I did spend a lot of time with kids when their parents weren’t around—which actually allows me to see kids actually in the process of self-advocating. Here’s what I feel is important for school-aged kids with asthma to be able to do—at a developmentally appropriate level.

  • Know where their inhaler is kept and ensure it is with them—even if that requires some prompting
  • Know their asthma symptoms
  • Know when to use their inhaler
  • Know how to use their inhaler, even if they need help
  • Communicate when they need medication, if possible
  • Know what things might make their asthma worse (asthma triggers)
  • Speak up if they notice a situation may trigger their asthma (chalkboard dust, classroom pets, cleaning supplies being used, plants inside the school), so that an adult can make modifications
  • Understand how to manage asthma triggers (ie. using their inhaler before gym class, wearing a scarf in winter)
  • Understand that sometimes activities may have to be limited because of their asthma, and how to communicate this—that they can do anything, but maybe not all the time.
  • Ask questions if they are uncertain about something

None of these things change the responsibility adults have for the kids with asthma in their care. But, the more situations adult caregivers can identify where kids can begin to take ownership for their asthma, the more these teachable moments can occur to provide kids a strong basis for current and future self-advocacy. Everybody with asthma will in life encounter situations that are not the best fit for their asthma—by starting young, self-advocacy will feel more natural, and hopefully, enable kids to live even healthier, and more symptom-free than in past generations where talking about experiences of chronic disease, including asthma, was avoided. Kids can-and should!—play an active role in their own asthma care.

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