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ECC at Perkins: Building a future starts with self determination

Self-determination is an essential skill that helps students set realistic goals and take ownership of their lives.

Brendan, 18, stocks the fridge during his shift at Perk Café. Photo Credit: Anna Miller

Self determination is one of nine life skills kids with visual impairments and multiple disabilities learn through the Expanded Core Curriculum at Perkins. For students with visual impairments and complex disabilities, becoming an effective advocate for themselves is critical. And the skills taught must be based on every individual student’s own needs and goals.

Here are just a few ways to teach self determination, and a bit more about why it’s so necessary as part of every child’s formal education.

Why is self determination so important?

For young adults who are blind, deafblind or have multiple disabilities, developing self-determination is an important step in the process of transitioning from school to adulthood. This is the skill that will enable students to speak up for themselves, make their opinions and needs heard and understood, and go after the things they want in life.

“It begins with a student experiencing something they’re successful at and realizing, ‘I can do this,’” says Denise, director of transition services at Perkins. “When you’re self-determined you’re taking ownership of your life.”

How is self determination taught?

  • Setting personal goals: Both in and out of the classroom. Not only that, but it’s important to define action plans for achieving those goals and learning to prioritize school assignments alongside personal projects to strike the right balance.
  • Make sure students are participants in their own lives: Of course, parents and teachers often know best for children. It’s important for building confidence and self determination, though, that children be included in conversations about their own lives, from everything including Individualized Education Plan (IEP) discussions to meal time decisions.
  • Self-management: A big part of self determination is the ability to manage their own day-to-day lives. This also falls under independent living, itself a component of the Expanded Core Curriculum. Students need to be allowed to manage their own schedules, which includes setting their own alarm clocks and leaving themselves enough time to get dressed, eat and to their appointments or classes on time.

What is the Expanded Core Curriculum?

The Expanded Core Curriculum is built of of nine life skills Perkins students with visual impairments, deafblindness and additional disabilities learn on top of their core academics. It covers everything from using technology to independent living to socializing with peers — knowledge most sighted children acquire by observing everyday life. The Expanded Core Curriculum gives students who are blind, deafblind and have additional disabilities a toolbox of crucial skills they need to succeed at school, in social situations, at home, on the job and everywhere else.

Slater, who is deafblind, types an email to her Aunt Lori. Photo Credit: Anna Miller

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Student practices white cane technique as her orientation and mobility instructor observes.

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A teacher and student communicate via sign language

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