Teaching Decision Making to Students with Learning Disabilities by Promoting Self-Determination
The ability to make effective choices and decisions is one of the most important competencies students, including those with learning disabilities, need to be successful in life after high school. Promoting student self-determination provides an excellent framework within which to teach students how to make effective choices and decisions. Effective choices are those that the student will see as beneficial, and these models of self-determination can be used to teach students to make choices and decisions that (a) are consistent with what is most important to them and (b) enable them to achieve more positive adult outcomes. A general overview of best practices in promoting and enhancing self-determination can be found in a previous ERIC digest (Wehmeyer, 2002). This digest specifically examines how instructional practices to promote self-determination can be used to help students with learning disabilities make effective choices and decisions.
How is self-determination linked to learning how to make good choices and decisions?
Self-determination is "a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that enable a person to engage in 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 in our society" (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998, p.2). Thus, self-determination involves assessing one's own strengths, weaknesses, needs, and preferences. Field and Hoffman (1994) describe five steps to enhanced self-determination. The five steps are:
- Know yourself
- Value yourself
- Experience outcomes and learn.
Making choices and decisions is central to each of the five steps. For example, one sub-component of the step "Plan" is to set goals. To set a goal, a decision must be made. A sub-component of "Know Yourself" is to decide what is important to you. A key goal of instruction to promote self-determination is to enable students to make choices and decisions based on a foundation of knowing about and valuing themselves (Field & Hoffman, 1994). If we support students in becoming more self-determined, we are, in essence, enabling them to learn how to make choices and decisions that are based on what they most value.
What barriers do students with learning disabilities face in learning how to make effective choices and decisions?
Students with learning disabilities face some unique barriers to becoming self-determined, which are identified below:
- Because learning disabilities are generally hidden disabilities, and because in our culture having a disability is often viewed as stigmatizing, many students with learning disabilities do not acknowledge their disabilities. Not acknowledging their disabilities diminishes their available resources, as most resources for adults in postsecondary education or employment require disclosure of the disability in order to obtain the resource. If students choose to disclose their hidden learning disabilities, they must then deal with the perceptions and misperceptions that others may have about them.
- An understanding of one's strengths and weaknesses and acceptance of self form the foundation for making effective choices and decisions (Field & Hoffman, 1994). The stigma attached to learning disabilities encourages many students to hide their disabilities, inhibiting the development of self-awareness and belief in themselves.
- Learned helplessness and self-deprecating attributions among students with learning disabilities have been widely documented (Bos & Vaughn, 2002). Learned helplessness is the effect of failure, where the belief exists that past failure predicts future failures. An accurate assessment of one's strengths, weaknesses, needs, and preferences along with confidence in one's abilities is fundamental to effective choice and decision-making. Lack of a positive, realistic self-concept is frequently identified in the literature as a difficulty for persons with learning disabilities (Price, 2002). This inaccurate assessment of one's own traits may inhibit a student's ability to make effective choices and decisions.
- Inappropriate or ineffective socialization skills are frequently cited in the literature as issues for individuals with learning disabilities (Price, 2002). Positive relationships (which rely on strong social skills) are fundamental to self-determination and making effective choices (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Many persons with learning disabilities face difficulty in executive functioning skills, such as organizational and planning abilities, mental flexibility, and task initiation. These executive functioning skills are fundamental to making effective decisions and choices. For example, mental flexibility is critical to being able to examine an array of options, before choosing or deciding on one. Students need to be aware of multiple options from which to choose before they are able to make an informed choice. Planning and task initiation are critical to acting on a choice or decision once it has been made.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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