Self-Determination for Students with Disabilities (page 2)
Think how you would react if other people constantly controlled your life, deciding what you should wear, where you should go, what career you should pursue, and what type of housing and roommates you should have. Beginning at a very young age, children typically begin to express their wishes, and they learn that they have a right to act on those wishes. (For example, have you ever tried to convince a 3-year-old that the two articles of clothing she selected to wear do not match?) But despite good intentions by professionals and parents, many students and adults with disabilities have been denied opportunities to make their own life decisions. Reversing this situation has become a goal for the field (for example, Martin, Van Dycke, Christensen, Greene, Gardner, Et Lovett, 2006; Wehymeyer, 2007). One way self-determination can occur is for students to actively participate in or lead their IEP meetings and other planning activities.
When students lead their IEP meetings, they learn to think and advocate for themselves (Mason, McGahee-Kovac, & Johnson, 2004). They can learn to do this beginning at a very early age. For example, elementary students might have the role of introducing their parents to the team and describing to team members what they have been learning in school. Students in middle school might explain their disabilities and the impact of those disabilities, share their strengths, and discuss accommodations needed. In high school, students might lead the entire conference, working to ensure that the IEP and transition plan reflect their preferences and plans for the future. Specific student roles can vary, and students should be prepared for participating so they know the process and ways they contribute to it. Further, general education teachers find that students who actively participate in their IEP meetings have better skills for interacting with adults, better understanding of their special needs, greater awareness of resources available to help them, and more willingness to accept responsibility for themselves (Test et al., 2004).
Another method of self-determination called person-centered planning was developed by professionals from both the United States and Canada and usually is related to IEP planning. It emphasizes these dimensions:
- Community presence. Identify the community settings that the student uses and the ones that would benefit him. The intent is to incorporate these settings into the educational planning process.
- Choice. Identify decisions made by the student and decisions made for the student. The goal of person-centered planning is to transfer as many choices to the student as possible.
- Competence. Identify the skills that will best assist the student to participate fully in the school and community and the strategies that will be most effective for teaching those skills.
- Respect. Clarify roles the student has in the school and local community. The goal is to strengthen and expand those roles and decrease or eliminate personal characteristics that might cause the student to be perceived by others in a stereotypical way.
- Community participation. Specify people with whom the student spends time at school and in other settings. The goal is to identify individuals who can advocate for the student and to foster friendships with age-appropriate peers.
A number of person-centered planning approaches have been developed, and you may find that one of these is used in your school district. They include Making Action Plans (MAPs), Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope (PATH). and Circle of Friends.
Sources: Adapted from "How to Help Students Lead Their IEP Meetings," by C. Y. Mason, M. McGahee-Kovac, and L. Johnson, 2004, Teaching Exceptional Children, 36(3), pp. 18-25; and Person-Centered Practices: Building Personalized Supports That Respect the Dreams of People with Disabilities, by REACH of Louisville, n.d., retrieved September 15, 2004, from www.reachoflouisville.com/ person-centered/Default.htm. Reprinted with permission.
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