Recently, I was in a brick and mortar high school classroom for an extended meeting to support a student with special education needs. As these things go, there is always plenty of time to look around and observe and learn. As this is late in the school year, almost every wall and surface was covered with student work, inspiring quotes and displays of previous topics and projects. I marveled at the amount of information students are exposed to, the breadth of teaching methods and the sheer amount of work that goes into creating an inspiring learning environment. On this day though, one particular idea caught my eye, it was a poster listing 6-7 self-determination skills. Hmm, now I’m really interested. My entire approach to providing therapuetic pediatric special education services has been based on the idea of empowerment – through knowledge, planning and action. First step is always to understand the challenge, step 2 is to develop a relevant, meaningful intervention plan, and step 3 – 100 is to work that action plan. It is this structure that gives us confidence, assurity and knowlege that at this moment, this is exactly what we should be doing. So at this point, the adults are dialed in and ready to go, but what about the student? Well, that’s where the beginning of self-determination skills need to be an equal part of the goals. Our responsibility also includes empowering our children with the confidence to self-advocate, express their opinion and be a part of the decisions being made on their behalf.

As we did more investigating, we came upon a wonderful source of educational research, the ERIC institute of Educational Sciences. ERIC is an internet-based digital library of education research and information sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education. It provide a comprehensive, easy-to-use, searchable Internet-based bibliographic and full-text database of education research and information for educators, researchers, and the general public. The following information on student self-dtermination was condensed and adapted from their research on this powerful skill.

As with anything, find the nugget that resonates for you and your child.
Happy Spring,

Self-Determination and the Education of Students with Disabilities.
ERIC Identifier: ED470036 Publication Date: 2002-09-00 Author: Wehmeyer, Michael
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA

Self-determination skills enable individuals to assume greater responsibility and control. Moreover, when people with disabilities take responsibility for planning and decision-making, others change their views and expectations of them. Students with disabilities have emphasized that having control over their lives is important to their self-esteem and self-worth.

Self-determined people are goal oriented and apply a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that enable them to engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous behavior and actions. This involves asserting presence, making his or her needs known, evaluating progress toward meeting goals, adjusting performance, and creating unique approaches to solve problems. An understanding of one’s strengths and limitations, together with a belief of oneself as capable and effective are essential to self-determination.

Self-Determination Skills

Choice Making
Decision Making
Problem Solving
Goal Setting

Incorporating Self-Determination SkillsĀ at Every Stage

Early Elementary
Provide opportunities for students to make choices, teaching them that they can exert control and that most choices have limited options.
Promote early problem-solving skills by encouraging students to think aloud as they address simple problems.
Provide feedback regarding the outcomes of their choices to begin to teach students to link choices and consequences.
Teach students to evaluate their work in comparison to a standard to lay the foundation for self-management skills.

Late Elementary and Middle School
Teach them to weigh the pros and cons of each option to make simple decisions, and to examine the outcomes of past decisions.
Coach them in setting and committing to goals, including identifying steps to achieve goals and obtaining support to monitor progress.
Encourage them to evaluate task performance and reflect on ways to improve and enhance performance.

Junior High and High School
Encourage students to make decisions that affect their day-to-day activities, including academic goals and schedules.
Emphasize the link between set goals and the daily decisions they make, and teach them to break long-term goals into short-term objectives.

Other Tips

Promote active involvement in educational planning and decision-making.
Transition planning provides a powerful context in which to both teach and practice skills like goal setting, problem solving, effective communication and listening skills, assertiveness and self-advocacy, and decision-making.

Teach students to direct their own learning.
Students with disabilities can learn and use strategies like self-instruction, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation, and antecedent cue regulation to learn reading or math skills, or to improve in vocational education and independent living.

Communicate high expectations and emphasize student strengths.
Communicating high expectations to students can promote self-determination. Students with disabilities are often all too aware of what they cannot do, and they often are not as aware of their unique strengths and abilities.

Promote active problem solving and choice opportunities.
Students learn to solve problems in classrooms that value diversity in opinion and expression and create a ‘safe’ place for students to learn from mistakes. Such learning communities emphasize collaborative efforts and enable students to make choices about when, where, and how they learn.

Partner with parents and students to ensure meaningful involvement.
Self-determination activities must be practiced at home as well as in school. Parents are a student’s first and longest lasting teachers, and it is important to ensure the meaningful collaboration of teachers, family, and students in educational planning and decision making.

Other Resources for You and Your Child

A Parent’s Guide to Preparing for IEP Meetings

Empowering Books for Children