Young woman seated at table with others.

Learning to be the captain of your own ship: the importance of self-determination

Strong self-determination skills help students with disabilities become effective advocates who have more control over their lives.

What is self-determination? Self-determination is essentially believing that you are the captain of your own ship. It involves developing self-knowledge, choice-making,  decision-making, problem solving, self-advocacy and goal-setting. Developing self-determination skills helps students become effective advocates and have more control over their lives. These skills give students the ability to define and achieve goals based on a foundation of knowing and valuing ones self (Field and Hoffman, 1994).

Individuals’ preferences and interests should be at the center of transition planning. Building self-determination skills allows an individual to contribute to the development of their transition plan and vision for their future, no matter which communication modality they use (e.g., speech, communication devices, manual signs or sign language, etc.).

This may involve making choices or decisions about leisure activities, work, continuing education, and their living situation. It may also involve deciding with whom one wants to spend time. Development of these skills promotes independence, confidence, and empowerment to take ownership of their lives. Studies show that self-determination not only has an immediate impact on quality of life for people with disabilities, but it seems to have a long-lasting effect.

Self-determination status upon exiting high school predicts positive outcomes in achieving employment and community access… Exposure to self-determination interventions in secondary school may lead to more stability in student outcomes over time.

(Shogren, Karrie A., et al. “Relationships between self-determination and postschool outcomes for youth with disabilities.” The Journal of Special Education 48.4 (2015): 256-267.)

Age-related considerations

Resources and assessments

These resources will provide additional insight into the importance of teaching, practicing and embracing self-determination: 

Many standardized assessments are not designed for individuals with visual impairments; as such, they may be administered informally as part of a comprehensive evaluation that uses multiple tools or measures to assess language skills, including, but not limited to:

Student self-assessment checklists:

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