Steps to improve self-determination

Self determinationSelf-determination can be a driving force for students, especially those with moderate to severe disabilities. Self-determination provides the skills needed for these students to thrive in school, friendships, relationships, employment, community living and beyond. In fact, self-determination is a research-based predictor of positive outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

What is self-determination?

Self-determination is an individual defining what they want in life, and then planning and executing the steps to make it happen. Being able to set goals, self-advocate, remain present in making life decisions, and actively work toward accomplishing those goals are all components of self-determination.

Let’s first look at the skills that make up self-determination so that we can best identify how to teach students to engage in it.

  • Choice-making: navigating two or more options based on what an individual needs or wants in order to move closer to their goals
  • Decision-making: discovering different choices and then weighing the pros and cons of each to select the best one based on an individual’s ambitions
  • Problem-solving: recognizing and assessing various ways to overcome an encountered barrier as an individual works towards a goal
  • Goal setting and attainment: creating a plan and taking steps to achieve the goals an individual sets
  • Planning: thinking about the steps needed to take to reach a specific goal and then determining the most effective way to move forward
  • Self-advocacy: an individual speaking up for themselves based on their rights, needs and goals
  • Self-awareness: learning about an individual’s needs, dreams and goals
  • Self-management: determining if an individual’s actions are moving them closer to their goals, and then pivoting and adjusting to ensure the desired actions are taken
  • Self-knowledge: developing a strong understanding of what an individual’s dreams are, how others can support them in achieving those dreams, and then identifying how to build a long-term vision for the future.
How to incorporate opportunities for self-determination 

You may already be presenting opportunities for self-determination in your classroom, and if so – these tips may be familiar. If you’re not, here are a few strategies to help get you started:

  • Integrate choice into your students’ day wherever you can
    • This teaches students that they have a voice in their outcomes, and that their decisions matter
  • Practice social problem-solving when teaching social skills
    • List options for each action, their pros and cons, and what the end result could look like
  • Teach and practice communication skills in as many settings as possible
    • Communicating your basic wants and needs are the building blocks for self-advocacy
  • Model negotiation and compromise as your students navigate both each other and their environments
    • This can work on almost all of the skill sets that make up self-determination at once!
  • Program student-directed learning strategies such as self-instruction and self-management into your students’ daily routines
    • Incorporate opportunities for checklists and schedules to increase independence
  • Use a Person-Centered Planning model, which includes a self-directed IEP for planning and goal setting purposes.
The beginning stages

If you’ve just started to teach self-determination in your classroom, you’ll want to identify where your students’ strengths are as far as deciding, acting and believing, as well as where you can help your students improve.

You can also utilize the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) to teach self-determination skills. The SDLMI is an instructional framework that teaches students to set goals, make a plan to achieve those goals, and monitor progress toward goals.

With these tips and strategies, your students will be well on their way to building their self-determination skills!

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