Self Determination

What is Self Determination?

This area of the expanded core curriculum (ECC) highlights the importance of developing confidence. Self-determination involves the student identifying their own interests, values, and motivations, as well as a personal understanding of their own abilities and limitations. The student then takes this information to explore how this personal awareness relates to various life choices.

For example, students learn from successes and failures how to achieve transition goals for education, employment, and personal relationships. Self-determination is the ability of individuals to control their lives, reach goals they have set, and participate in the world around them to the fullest extent possible.

Why Teach Self-Determination as a Specific Area?

Self-determined people are causal agents. They make things happen in their lives, are goal-oriented and apply problem-solving and decision-making skills to guide their actions. These individuals know what they do well and where they need assistance. Self-determined people are empowered actors in their own lives. They are not merely acted upon, or directed, by others.

Self-determination is particularly important for students who are blind or low vision. The skills leading to enhanced self-determination, including goal setting, problem-solving, and decision making, allow students to assume greater responsibility and control of their lives from early developmental milestones throughout the high school transition into postsecondary education and careers.

Research shows that autonomous and self-regulated learning by self-determined youths in control of their own decisions is associated with more engagement and better academic achievement by these students.

Research has also shown that an individual’s self-determination impacts education and employment. Postsecondary work, education, and training are more likely outcomes for individuals who are blind or low vision and who have achieved self-determination.

How Do TVIs Approach Instruction of Self-Determination Skills?

TVIs can promote self-determination by actively involving students in their own educational planning and decision-making. The law requires that from 14 years of age onward, transition needs and services be addressed on a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and that goals related to these services be based on student needs, interests, and preferences. When these students learn the skills included in self-determination, they increase their independence, self-esteem, personal satisfaction, and overall quality of life.

Transition planning provides a powerful opportunity to teach and practice skills directly related to self-determination development. This includes engaging in goal setting, problem-solving, effective communication and listening skills, assertiveness and self-advocacy, and decision making. Younger students in elementary and middle school should also be involved in planning their educational and related activities.

Educational programs should promote the skills youths who are blind or low vision need to develop self-determination.

Practicing Self-Determination

  • Set personal goals (getting a specific grade on an assignment or in a class)
  • Solve problems that act as barriers to achieving these goals (finding a peer who can be a tutor)
  • Prioritize wisely, ensuring schoolwork comes before leisure activities based on personal preferences and interests.
  • Engage in decisions that shape their life quality, like setting personal goals in their Individualized Education Program (IEP).
  • Speak up for their needs, such as requesting materials in advance for accessibility.
  • Develop and follow action plans for reaching their goals, like scheduling assignment due dates and planning study times.
  • Practice self-regulation and management in daily routines, including waking up, dressing, having breakfast, and preparing materials for the day.

In addition, students with blindness or low vision may use assistive technology to access a digital version of their calendars. An accessible electronic braille notetaking device, a tablet with a built-in screen reader or screen enlargement features could be useful tools for students to monitor progress toward goals, create action plans, and manage daily routines.

Youths with visual disabilities can also learn self-advocacy skills by contacting community venues and asking about accessibility options before participating in class field trips or other relevant outings.

How to Speak UP When They Don’t Want Support

Ultimately, it’s crucial for students with blindness or low vision to master assertive communication. This means confidently requesting or declining help, without being overly demanding or too passive. These students should recognize the importance of independence. Also understandind that, like anyone else, there are times when they’ll need support from others.

For example, students might politely ask for assistance from strangers if they become lost in the community or need help locating a particular item. Requesting needed information, such as walking directions, is also important. Students can develop the skills and confidence to pursue or clarify specific information, like street names and words such as left/right or north/south, when taking directions from strangers.

How Can We Support Instruction in Self-Determination in Schools?

TVIs can promote self-determination by teaching students the skills and knowledge to become self-determined, communicating high expectations, and emphasizing students’ strengths and uniqueness. They can also promote these skills by working with families and the school community to help others understand the need to support the student’s accurate and positive self-concept development. Simply asking another teacher to give the student direct feedback about assignments or observed behaviors can help school staff understand how to support a child with a visual disability.

A simple yet impactful way to foster self-determination in students is to set high, reachable goals. Clearly communicate these goals and recognize the student’s unique talents and abilities needed to achieve them.

Students with blindness or low vision often know their limitations well. However, they might not fully recognize their own strengths and capabilities. Providing detailed feedback, with concrete examples of their strengths and the positive results they lead to, is vital. This feedback should come from various sources: family, teachers, peers, and even school counselors. Such comprehensive input can greatly enhance their self-determination.

Additionally, connecting with peers and working adults who are blind or have low vision can be beneficial. Learning from others about the strategies they’ve used to build confidence and self-awareness can be incredibly valuable.

Self-determination skills are best facilitated by a fully qualified TVI working with the entire educational team. The TVI is the teacher or specialist most aware of the many aspects of self-awareness, executive function, and personal responsibility that youths who are blind or low vision miss out on and how this lack of awareness impacts their lives. This area should be addressed in IEP goals, and student progress on these goals should be recorded. However, instruction in self-determination is usually not a formal process.

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