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Self determination is believing you can control your own destiny. Self-determination is a combination of attitudes and abilities that lead people to set goals for themselves, and to take the initiative to reach these goals. It is about being in charge, but is not necessarily the same thing as self-sufficiency or independence. It means making your own choices, learning to effectively solve problems, and taking control and responsibility for one’s life. Practicing self-determination also means one experiences the consequences of making choices.

Developing Self-Determination Skills

The development of self-determination skills is a process that begins in childhood and continues throughout one’s life. Self-determination is important for all people, but it is especially important, and often more difficult to learn, for young people with disabilities. Well-meaning individuals sometimes “protect” children with disabilities by making all their decisions for them. Also, sometimes people assume that people with disabilities can’t think for themselves.

Self-determination involves many attitudes and abilities including: self-awareness, assertiveness, creativity, and pride, and problem solving and self-advocacy skills. To take charge of your own life, you must be able to set goals, evaluate options, make choices and then work to achieve your goals.

Since self-determination skills are most effectively learned and developed by practicing them, students with disabilities should be given ample opportunity to use their self-advocacy, decision-making and socialization skills well before they leave high school to prepare themselves for working and living in their community.

Family Support

Families can provide support for their young adults with disabilities in the development of self-determination skills. Parents can help prepare their young adults with disabilities by giving them a growing number of opportunities to make their own decisions. Families should also provide their teenager with opportunities to explore employment, housing options, and community recreation programs in their community by utilizing their own network of relatives and friends, as well as formal service systems. Most importantly, families should prepare themselves to accept their child in his or her new adult role and allow their adult children to take an active role in the decisions that will determine their future _ even if it means allowing them to make mistakes.


Older and more experienced adults with disabilities can play a helpful role in this process not only by serving as role models, but by working actively and directly with youth as mentors. By sharing the experiences and strategies that led to their own successful employment and independence, mentors can help guide youth through a challenging transition period, offer problem-solving advice on issues that parents lack direct experience with (or that youth may be reluctant to discuss openly with their parents), and provide needed encouragement.

Many agencies offer mentoring programs that match youth with an adult mentor. Some specifically focus on youth with disabilities. Investigate what programs may be available in your community by checking with Independent Living Centers for People with disabilities, parent centers in your state, community agencies (such as YMCAs, YWCAs, Boys’ Clubs and Girls” Clubs programs), and your state vocational rehabilitation agencies.

This information provided by PACER’s National Parent Center on Transition and Employment.

Self-Determination Information Sheets

What is Self-Determination?

Tips for Teens: Use Your IEP Meetings to Learn How to Advocate for Yourself

Helping Your Child Prepare for the Age of Majority

Self-Determination Videos and Recorded Webinars

Parents Teaching Self-Advocacy Skills: Helping Your Child Toward Self-Determination Video

Do you want to help your child with a disability live an included and productive life?  Your son or daughter needs self-determination skills such as making choices, setting goals, and  self-advocacy. The Self-Determination video will provide you with a foundation of how to teach these skills to your son or daughter.  Utah Parent Center 2015.

For more information, refer to the GREEN section of the UPC’s Choices and Youth Workbooks.

Student-Led IEPs Webinar

This short recorded webinar provides informaiton on Student-Led IEPs (Individualized Education Programs).  A student-led IEP is an IEP in which the student participates on a variety of levels.

Presented by Susan Loving, Utah State Office of Education.  Recorded April 27, 2015.

Student-Led Section 504 Meetings Webinar

This recording describes the process of holding a student-led Section 504 Accommodation Planning Meeting.  Details about the student’s role, benefits, and outcomes are explained.

Presented by Jennifer Slade, Utah State Office of Education.  Recorded May 6, 2015.

Self-Determination Links

Opening Doors to Planning for Life After High School to Self-Determination Skills

Beyond Guardianship

Self-Determination for Children and Young Adults Who Are Deaf-Blind