Empowerment, Choice, and Control: The Power of Self-Determination Skills

by Jesse Hanwit, Project UNITE

Although IDEA requires that students be invited to their IEP meetings when transition planning is being discussed, it does not obligate us to teach students how to be actively involved in formulating their own long range goals. Yet few would argue with the notion that if students do not feel they have a future, they will not find the present compelling. Recent research has indicated that "self-determined students were more likely to have achieved more positive adult outcomes including being employed at a higher rate and earning more per hour than peers who did not possess these skills"(Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1997). What are the skills students should acquire in order to become adept at participating in and facilitating their own planning?

After completing extensive research, Field and Hoffman (1994) developed a model of self-determination which has five primary components: a) know yourself, b) value yourself, c) plan, d) act, and e) experience and learn. This model was based on the following definition of self-determination: "the ability to identify and achieve goals based on a foundation of knowing and valuing oneself" (Field & Hoffman, 1994, p.161). Wehmeyer and Schwartz (1997) also identified a set of elements persons must possess to be considered "self-determined". These elements include, but are not limited to: (a) choice making, (b) decision making, (c) problem-solving, (d) goal setting and attainment, (e) self-observation skills, (f) self-evaluation skills, (g) self-reinforcement skills, (h) self-awareness, and (i) self-knowledge.

By helping our students develop self determination skills, we become enablers. We give our students the opportunity to dream, to make decisions, to achieve independence and to choose their quality of life. They become empowered to evaluate themselves, identify meaningful goals, and select the activities necessary to achieve these goals. They become invested in the present as they to plan for the future.

If you are interested in expanding your knowledge of best practices for integrating self-determination instruction into your students' educational programming, please consider the following resources:

Next S.T.E.P. Training

March 4, 1997, Hampton Public Library, 8:30 AM to noon. Sponsored by the University of Oregon, this training will illustrate the use of the Next S.T.E.P. curriculum which teaches students how to take charge of their own transition planning. For registration information contact Jesse Hanwit at (757) 396-6724. Registration is limited - act quickly!

Self Determination Across the Life Span: Independence and Choice for People with Disabilities

This book was compiled to help readers develop their own concept of self-determination. It includes the following chapters: l. "Choicemaker: Infusing Self-Determination Instruction into the IEP and Transition Process " by Martin and Marshall 2. "Promoting Self-Determination in School Reform, Individualized Planning, and Curriculum Efforts" by Field and Hoffman, and 3. "Facilitating Adolescent Self-Determination: What Does It Take?" by Powers, Wilson, Matuszewski, Phillips, Rein, Schumacher and Gensert. Available in the UNITE Regional Library. Contact 757/396-6724.

PATH: A Workbook For Planning Positive Possible Futures

This workbook introduces the reader to a person-centered planning approach to developing long-range goals which focuses on the student's strengths and supports. Available in the UNITE Regional Library.


Field, S., & Hoffman, A. (1994). Development of a model for self-determination. Career development for exceptional individuals, 17, 159-169.

Sands, D., & Wehmeyer, M. (1996) Self-determination across the life span:Independence and choice for people with disabilities. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Wehmeyer, M., & Schwartz, M. (1997). Self-determination and positive adult outcomes: A follow-up study of youth with mental retardation or learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 63, 245-255.