Self Determination: Involving Youth in Plans for The Future
As youth travel along the path toward becoming an adult, it is important to recognize opportunities to learn skills for expressing their own wants and needs. They also need to express what their strengths and challenges are, and what their dreams are for the future. Developing skills for making choices, solving daily problems, setting goals and making decisions are all part of becoming a self-determined person. Below is an excerpt from a video produced by the UMKC Institute for Human Developement as part of the National Gateway to Self Determination project that describes what self-determination is and why it is important.
Each person is unique and can develop skills for self determination given the opportunity. Even though a transition plan is not required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) until age 16 for youth who receive special education services, learning skills for transitioning into adulthood actually begins early in a person's life.
Building Self-Determination Skills Through the Years
During Early Childhood
How much youth are involved in helping to plan for their future depends partially on the foundation provided during early childhood. During this time they can build skills for an awareness of personal needs, making choices, choosing goals, expressing preferences, and understanding what options are available. Making choices and expressing preferences help children to develop self-awareness. Young children can also develop skills during early childhood for solving simple problems that occur during the course of the day, even if they use alternative communication such as micro-switches, vocalizations, signing, or gestures. Parents and teachers can promote these skills by providing opportunities for children to:
- Choose books and materials
- Choose among different activities
- Choose not to participate in an activity
- Choose the time or location of an activity
- Identify a simple problem and help identify possible solutions
- Identify the outcome of the choices that were made and discuss plans for choices in the future
The home offers children the earliest opportunities to make choices, problem-solve and have some control over their lives. Families can help their child to develop independence and self-determination by following the 10 Steps to Independence. The Foundations for Early Childhood Self-Determination Treasure Chest is available to help families and practitioners support young children to start the process of self-determination earlier in life.
Although making choices is the primary emphasis in preschool, the focus moves more to the areas of problem-solving and decision-making as children enter elementary school years. Parents and teachers can help children in the early elementary grades to see how the choices they make can be related to goals they want to achieve. Young elementary age children can set simple goals to achieve over a short period of time. Goals should be “I statements” such as, "I will give eye contact when meeting a new person." To assist in taking action on their goals download the Steps to Your Goals available on the Virginia Department of Education I'm Determined website.
Adults can help children learn to chart their own progress toward meeting their goals. The Simple Kids parenting site has many ideas for helping children chart their goals. By learning these skills, children are involved in the process of establishing goals and monitoring their progress. These become useful skills as they help plan for their future during person-centered planning meetings (link here to MAPs or PATH) and Individual Education Program (IEP) meetings. They may even enjoy setting goals and presenting their dreams for the future during their meetings by creating a powerpoint presentation. Templates are available on tthe I’m Determined website.
Some people develop skills for self advocacy by telling their story. In the video below, Seamus, at age 10, is shown giving testimony to the Missouri State Legislature in support insurance coverage for autism services.
In addition to speaking, Seamus also keeps a blog called Heartfelt visions from a child with Autism to inspire and teach other's what it is like to have autism.
During Middle/Secondary School
As the child gets older they can gain skills and participate in IEP meetings or other meetings. As they more fully participate, youth need to be able to talk about their disability, if possible. Parents can help their son or daughter understand how their disability affects them without focusing on the disability, but focusing on their gifts and talents. Learning how to tell their own stories is a powerful way for students to express their dreams for the future. Youth at the middle and secondary age may want to present their strengths, preferences and interests for the future by doing a powerpoint presentation. Download a template here. For a sample Power Point presentation by an individual with autism click here.
To learn more about how youth can participate in their own IEP meetings watch the "I'm Determined" film.
Understanding your rights as a student with a disability is important in helping you to become involved in planning of your future. The Self Determination Student Rights brochure outlines these rights. Click here to get tips to encourage self-determined behavior.
See additional information about youth leadership on the Community Living Skills page of the Roadmap.