Self-determination in students with disabilities

An Analysis of Interventions Used to Promote Self-Determination

Aug 07 2022

Researchers conducted an updated review of the literature on interventions to promote overall self-determination and skills associated with self-determined action in students with disabilities in the school context. Associated skills included choice-making, decision-making, problem-solving, goal setting and attainment, planning, self-management, self-advocacy, self-awareness, and self-knowledge.

The Value of Self-Determination

Self-determination is integral to student achievement of both academic goals and positive post-school employment, community integration, and quality of life outcomes. Emerging definitional frameworks for understanding self-determination highlight the value of developing skills associated with self-determined action (i.e., choice-making, decision-making, problem solving, goal setting and attainment, planning, self-management, self-advocacy, self-awareness, and self-knowledge) in students with disabilities. Given the value of self-determination in the lives of students with disabilities and expansion in theory, research, and practice, an updated review of the literature on interventions to promote self-determination and skills associated with self-determined actions was needed.

Positive Findings in Article Search

Researchers identified 34 articles published between 2000 and 2015 that met the search criteria. Search criteria required that articles: a) be published in an English language, peer-reviewed journal, b) include participants with disabilities between the ages of 3 to 21, c) occur in the school context, and d) report outcomes of an intervention intended to promote overall self-determination or skills associated with self-determined action. Researchers analyzed types of interventions, populations of students with whom they were implemented, outcomes, and rigor of research. “Findings include (a) an increase in the number of participants in self-determination studies, (b) positive outcomes for students with diverse personal characteristics (e.g. disability status, gender), and (c) a need for improved rigor in reporting quality of research.” Results indicated positive outcomes of interventions to promote self-determination across grade levels (primarily middle and high school), disability groups, and setting using a variety of instructional methods.

Increased Focus Needed on Promoting Self-Determination

These findings highlight the need for increased focus on “promoting self-determination within inclusive, general education settings with students with disabilities and of diverse backgrounds.” Incorporating evidence-based self-determination instruction enhances transition planning and access to and participation in the general education curriculum. The most commonly implemented intervention was the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI; Wehmeyer, Palmer, Argan, Mithaug, & Martin), a multi-component intervention targeting multiple skills associated with self-determined action. Given the strong research base supporting SDLMI as well as the availability of materials to support its implementation, teachers should consider this comprehensive intervention for integrating self-determination skills into the instruction. While interventions promoting self-determination proved effective across age ranges, the majority (i.e., 76%) of the studies reviewed included transition-age students. Given the positive outcomes and viable means reported, practitioners can “help students set and achieve education and transition related goals, benefiting students in school and in the real world.”

Notable Quotes: 

“Given the value of self-determination in the lives of students with disabilities, it is essential that skills associated with self-determination are integrated into instruction in the school context.” 

“It is often assumed that students learn skills associated with self-determined action, such as goal setting, problem solving, and decision-making incidentally; however, more explicit instruction needs to be dedicated to these skills, which are included in almost all state or local education agency content objectives.” 

“By continuing to focus on and improve instruction to promote self-determination, it is possible to further enhance the focus on enabling young people with disabilities to set and achieve goals as causal agents in their own lives.”

Personal Takeaway

Self-determination positively predicts in- and post- school outcomes as well as transition planning for students with disabilities. Improved understanding of the development and skills associated with self-determination guides current assessment and intervention. Consequently, evidence-based interventions allow practitioners to feasibly and effectively integrate self-determination and skills associated with self-determined action into instruction within the school context for students with and without disabilities.

Ashley_Parnell_72ppi

Ashley Parnell

Summarized Article:

Burke, K. M., Raley, S. K., Shogren, K. A., Hagiwara, M., Mumbardó-Adam, C., Uyanik, H., & Behrens, S. (2020). A meta-analysis of interventions to promote self-determination for students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 41(3), 176-188.

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