Self-Determination of Students With Intellectual Disabilities (page 2)
Historically, persons with intellectual disabilities have had decisions made for them, often by teachers, parents, or other caregivers. Thus, the basic tenets of a democratic society, including autonomy, independence, empowerment, and self-determination, were often overlooked for these people (Sands & Wehmeyer, 2005). This probably occurred because most professionals, parents, and caregivers underestimated the capacity of persons with intellectual disabilities to make these decisions (Sands & Wehmeyer, 2005).
This has changed in recent years as increasing numbers of parents and professionals have recognized the importance of involving persons with intellectual disabilities in decisions regarding their own lives. Research has shown that persons with intellectual disabilities who develop the core skills of self-determination have an improved quality of life and improved outcomes with regard to community living, postsecondary education, and employment (Thoma & Getzel, 2005). In addition, the process of self-determination
helps students become more persistent, productive, and motivated. Their self-confidence increases, and, with it, their self-esteem and comfort in attempting difficult tasks. In some cases, behavior problems decrease once students are allowed to exercise personal preferences within their daily activities and routines. Students have made academic gains when goal-setting activities are integrated into lessons in subjects such as reading, writing, and math. (Sands & Wehmeyer, 2005, p. 274)
In short, self-determination provides persons with intellectual disabilities with the opportunity to take more ownership for their lives, and with this ownership often comes more motivation to succeed.
Wehmeyer (1996) has defined self-determination as "acting as the primary causal agent in one's life and making choices and decisions regarding one's quality of life free from undue external influence or interference" (p. 22). An action is thus self-determined if the individual acts autonomously, the behaviors are self-regulated, the individual initiates the action and responds in a psychologically empowered manner, and the individual acts in a self-realizing way (i.e., uses a "comprehensive, and reasonably accurate, knowledge of [herself] and [her] strengths and limitations to act in such a manner as to capitalize on this knowledge in a beneficial way" ([Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1997, p. 246]).
If students with intellectual disabilities are to be self-determined when they exit school and enter adult life, they need certain skills and dispositions that may be developed while in school. The skills that lead to self-determination include knowledge about how to access resources that are needed as an adult; communicating interests, preferences, and needs; setting and monitoring goals; planning and managing time; identifying and solving problems; and self-advocating (Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1997). Developing these skills and an increased level of self-determination will ensure that individuals have significant influence and control over their own lives, are less dependent on others, and have a higher-quality life (Westling & Fox, 2004).
Sands and Wehmeyer (2005) have developed a framework for teaching the key skills related to self-determination—i.e., goal setting and decision making. This framework includes guidelines for teaching students to (1) identify a goal, (2) explore options for reaching the goal, (3) choose and act on an option for reaching the goal, and (4) evaluate and revise goals and decisions.
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