Proactivity is an important skill to foster success for anyone, but it is especially important for individuals with disabilities. The more proactive an individual can be in school, social situations, employment and recreational activities, the more likely they will experience success in these settings.  In order to be proactive, it helps the individual to have developed both self and disability awareness. 9 things are helpful for an individual with disabilities to do in each of these settings.

How to be Proactive

Proactivity Steps

*For the examples, we will be using a fictitious high school student named Joe who has ADHD, any resemblance to a real individual is purely coincidental.

1. Individuals must understand what proactivity is, why it is essential and the benefits of being proactive.

Proactive simply means that an individual does something in anticipation of what comes ahead, whether it be a problem, something they will need, or a change that will be required to be made.  Being proactive involves foresight into your future needs, and it should make things easier for you long term.

For example, Joe stops at the grocery store to grab a snack, and he remembers that there was not much milk left after he finished breakfast this morning.  Joe decides that it would be a good idea to buy more milk while he is at the store so that when he finishes the last little bit of milk in the carton at home, he will not have to go back to the store to buy more.

2. Make decisions and act on them.

It can be hard enough for an individual to make a decision, but following through with the decision can be even harder.

For example, on the weekend, Joe has decided that he needs to get his laundry done so he can have clean clothes for the coming week at school.  Now that he has made the decision, he needs to follow through with it, but there always seems to be one more thing that Joe needs to do first before he can start his laundry.  This procrastination goes on all weekend, and he never ends up doing his laundry before Monday.

3. Individuals need to recognize when there is a decision that needs to be made and to develop strategies for evaluating different options.

It is crucial that an individual understands the advantages and disadvantages of making a decision.  It can be beneficial for them to hear someone modelling decision-making strategies out loud. You can do this by subtly talking through some of the different choices you make throughout the day and listing the pros and cons for the various options, or by stating your reason for making a particular decision.

For example, Joe has homework to do tonight, and he is trying to decide whether he should do it before he goes to baseball practice, or watch TV before going to practice and do his homework after practice. If Joe does his homework before practice, it means that it will be done and he can relax after practice. However, he had a long day at school, and Joe just wants some time to chill out before going to practice and watching something on TV sounds really appealing.  If Joe decides to watch TV now and wait until after practice to do his homework, he will likely be tired from practice and not in the mood to do homework.  

4. Individuals need to understand the importance of taking responsibility for their actions. 

Individuals need to realize that everything they do or not do in life has consequences.  Some decisions they make will have positive outcomes, but there will also be some decisions that have negative ones.

For example, Joe decided to stay up late last night so he could play video games with his friends.  When his alarm went off in the morning, he kept hitting snooze. When his Mom finally made him get out of bed so Joe would not be late for school, he quickly got dressed to catch the bus.  He did not remember to grab breakfast on his way out the door.  All day at school he was easily distracted because not only was he tired from staying up late, but was also very hungry because he did not eat breakfast.

5. Individuals need to develop an internal locus of control.

An individual with an internal locus of control is someone who believes that their success is based on the work they do and that they have control over their lives. This is important for individuals with disabilities because there are things in their life that are harder for them to do that for others and this can be very frustrating.  They need to be able to do a little self-talk to remind themselves that with hard work and persistence they will be able to succeed. 

For example, there is an upcoming exciting school trip and Joe’s parents say that to go, he has to make sure that he gets at least a 75% on his History test next week. He knows the test is going to be hard, but he also knows if he does a little bit of review each day he will know enough to succeed at the test.

6. Individuals need to self-advocate and be assertive about their needs.

Self-advocacy means for an individual to be able to speak about their disability for themselves and ask for what they need. It is a crucial skill for anyone with a disability to develop so they can get the assistance they need and deserve in order to succeed.

For example, it is September and the start of a new school year for Joe.  This year he has some new teachers, so he makes sure to go up to them in his first class to discuss his ADHD with them and what his learning needs are.  He mentions that he is allowed extra time to take tests and to write them in a different room to minimize the distractions for him.  As the term continues, he speaks to his teachers before his test to make sure a separate testing location for him has been reserved and that he will be allowed the extra time to complete the test. 

7. Individuals need to develop different strategies for engaging in the world.

It can be very intimidating for someone with a disability to go out in public, especially if what they are trying to do makes their disability apparent.  Even if someone has accepted and is comfortable with their disability, they can still feel very self-conscious; especially if they have an ‘invisible disability,’ such as a learning disability or ADHD that others are not aware of just by looking at them.

For example, let’s consider our friend Joe who wants to go hang out with his friends. He knows from past experiences that he gets bored just sitting around and talking for a few reasons:

  • He has a hard time staying still for a whole evening
  • He doesn’t know what to talk about
  • He gets bored quickly if he doesn’t like the topic of conversation
  • His friends get frustrated if he is using his phone to play games while they are trying to hang out

Some of the things that Joe can do to prepare for a night of hanging out with his friends:

  • Get some exercise (ride his bike, go for a run or to the gym) so that he does not have as much energy while they are talking
  • Come up with some conversation starters and topics that he enjoys talking about
  • Think of some card games or board games that he and his friends can play while they are hanging out
  • Bring his guitar so he can play some background music and keep his hands busy instead of using his phone

8. Individuals need to build self-confidence.

Self-confidence can be a huge game changer for an individual with a disability.  I have found that once an individual experiences success in one area of their life, like a hobby, the confidence they gain from this success starts to overflow into other areas including the ones they struggle with.

9. Individuals need to understand and take responsibility for risk-taking. 

It is tough to go through life without taking any risks and for some individuals, partaking in risky behaviour is too exciting to avoid.  It is important to develop strategies to identify the risk and ways to weigh the pros and cons of that particular risk. 

In some cases it is helpful to develop a good support network as people don’t always realize what they are doing is dangerous so need to have someone help identify the risk and its consequences to them.

This post is based on a journal article by Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins & Herman’s qualitative analysis of 20 years of research published Learning Disabilities Research & Practice.