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Self-Determination: It’s MY Life!

Self-determination and the right to take reasonable risks are crucial for a person’s growth, dignity and self worth. This should be no different for a person with a disability, but may be more difficult for a person to learn or use.

People with good intentions frequently attempt to “protect” individuals with disabilities by making all their decisions for them. Over protection may appear on the surface to be kind, but it can be dishonorable. An oversupply of protection can smother a person emotionally, destroy his or her hopes and dreams and strip them of their dignity.

The more self-determination skills a person develops the better quality of life they will lead. The development of self-determination is a process that begins in childhood and continues throughout one’s life. The choices one makes, attitudes and skills needed to live a self-determined life are constantly evolving. You can help your child by giving them a growing number of opportunities to make their own decisions and to succeed and fail with grace. Understanding the principles of self-determination and fostering skills and attitudes needed to lead a self-determined life will put you and your child in charge of their life trajectory, not the system.

What is Self-Determination?

Self-determination “encompasses concepts such as free will, civil and human rights, freedom of choice, independence, personal agency, self-direction, and individual responsibility” (University of Illinois at Chicago National Research & Training Center, 2002).

Self-Determination is…

Graphic depicting two components of the S.C.A.R.F. acronym: F is for the freedom to decide how he or she wants to live their life, and A is for the authority to control resources available and obtain needed supports and services.
Graphic depicting two components of the S.C.A.R.F. acronym: S is for the support needed to obtain personal goals; to organize resources in a way that are life enhancing and meaningful, and R is for the responsibility to use resources wisely, and to contribute back to the community in meaningful ways through presence, efforts and gifts.

Practicing self-determination also means one experiences the natural consequences of choices made.

Under this framework, individuals who have a disability are taught that assistance is not a deficit, and that knowing how to seek assistance is a positive attribute that leads toward self-sufficiency as an adult.

Independence is not measured by the number of tasks we can do without assistance, but the quality of life we can lead with assistance.

American’s With Disability Act of 1990
Graphic depicting the final component of the S.C.A.R.F. acronym: C is for confirmation, to play an important role in system redesign, to advocate, develop leadership skills, become trained as a self-advocate, and participate in coalitions and policy-making.

What Does the Research Say about Self-Determination?

Strategies to Promote Self-Determination

Since self-determination skills are most effectively learned and developed by practicing them, individuals with disabilities should be given ample opportunity to make choices and to use their self-advocacy, decision-making and problem-solving skills.

The potential for self-determination exists in all persons regardless of their age, perceived ability or support needs.

Resources: Learn More

ERIC Digest #E632 Self-Determination and the Education of Students with DisabilitiesMichael Wehmeyer examines the important role schools play in teaching self-determination.
Fostering Self-Determination Among Children and Youth with Disabilities—Ideas from PARENTS
for PARENTS (link to pdf)
This Guide explores the important roles parents can play in encouraging self-determination and shares a rich array of ideas generated by parents for parents.
Garrett Center on Transition & Disability StudiesParent resources on this site include tools for building self-determination skills in children and young adults.
I’m DeterminedThe project focuses on providing direct instruction, models, and opportunities to practice skills associated with self-determined behavior. There is a something for everyone – youth, parents and professionals.
Self-Advocacy OnlineVisitors to the site will discover multi-media lessons on a variety of topics such as living
self-determined, healthy, contributing lives in their communities. The site includes a story wall of videos of self-advocates sharing their stories and a national listing of self-advocacy groups to connected people with I/DD both locally and nationally.
Self-Determination Makes A Difference (link to video)Watch this short video to learn how
self-determination makes a difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities.
Texas AdvocatesTexas Advocates is recognized as the leader in self-advocacy in Texas. Texas Advocates advocate for more and better services and supports for persons with disabilities to be included in their communities.
The Self-Determination GroupThe Self-Determination group is run by and for individuals with disabilities with the support of an advisor.
The Arc’s Self-Determination Scale

The accompanying procedural guidelines manual provides administration and scoring information
The Arc’s Self-Determination Scale (a) assesses the self-determination strengths and weaknesses of adolescents with disabilities, (b) facilitates student involvement in educational planning and instruction to promote self-determination as an educational outcome, (c) develops self-determination goals and objectives, and (d) assesses student self-determination skills for research purposes.
The Center for Self-DeterminationThe Center is as clearinghouse, training and technical assistance source on self-determination in the U.S. and other countries. The Center is devoted to working within the public and private sector to move power and authority over resources directly to individuals with disabilities, families and allies.

There is only one success…to be able to spend your life in your own way.

Christopher Morley