Transition Time Self-Determination: A Critical Competence

by Dale Pennell, C.A.S.

Self-determination is critical to the transition process for students with disabilities (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998a). The professional literature offers many definitions of self-determination, all of which share common themes embraced in a summary definition offered by Field, et al.:

Self-determination is a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that enable a person to engage in a goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous behavior. An understanding of one's strengths and limitations together with a belief in oneself as capable and effective are essential to self-determination. When acting on the basis of these skills and attitudes, individuals have greater ability to take control of their lives and assume the role of successful adults. (1998b, p. 2)

This combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs includes:

  • Self-awareness

  • Self-knowledge

  • Self-concept

  • Self-esteem

  • Self-efficacy

  • Assertiveness

  • Self-advocacy

  • Choice making

  • Control (internal locus)

  • Decision making

  • Problem solving

  • Goal setting and attainment

  • Self-observation skills

  • Self-evaluation skills

  • Self-reinforcement skills

(Adapted from St. Peter, Field, & Hoffman, 1992; St. Peter, Field, Hoffman, & Keena, 1992; Wehmeyer, 1997)

Students with disabilities may not be as accomplished in self-determination skills as their age- or grade-level peers. However, it is important that students begin to learn and practice these skills where they are in their own lives (Sitlington, Clark, & Kolstoe, 2000). Self-determination skills are best learned in school environments that encourage, nurture, and support self-determination, values, thinking, and behavior.

Future editions of Transition Time will discuss the meanings of individual components of self-determination, methods for teaching them and suggestions for incorporating self-determination into the IEP process.

References

Field, S., Martin, J., Miller, R., Ward, M., & Wehmeyer, M. (1998a). Self-determination for persons with disabilities: A position statement of the division on career development and transition. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 21, 113-128.

Field, S., Martin, J., Miller, R., Ward, M., & Wehmeyer, M. (1998b). A practical guide for teaching self-determination. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Sitlington, P., Clark, G., & Kolstoe, O. (2000). Transition education and services for adolescents. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

St. Peter, S., Field, S., & Hoffman, A. (1992). Self-determination: A literature review and synthesis. Detroit, MI: The Developmental Disabilities Institute and The College of Education, Wayne State University.

St. Peter, S., Field, S., Hoffman, A., & Keena, V. (1992). Self-determination: An annotated bibliography. Detroit, MI: The Developmental Disabilities Institute and The College of Education, Wayne State University.

Wehmeyer, M. (1997). Self-directed learning and self-determination. In M. Agran (Ed.), Student directed learning: A handbook of self-management. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Date: May/June 2003