Encouraging Self-Determination in Individuals with Special Needs Making the Transition to Adulthood

Social Worker Resource
May 7, 2013 — 1,432 views  
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Working with special needs youth can be particularly challenging for some teachers and parents, who often listen to their protective instincts while safeguarding their young child from the ills of the world. This tendency to protect is actually good for the child at an early age, and often through young adulthood. As these children age, however, the urge to protect can actually cause them to shy away from self-determination. Instead of offering protection, parents and teachers need to work toward greater self-determination, mature decision-making, and an understanding that life does involve mistakes and consequences.

Getting Started: Self-Determination Education Begins with an IEP

The key way to start working on self-determination is to work with school officials who are in charge of any special needs program in a high school setting. These professionals have received extensive training, often at the undergraduate and graduate level, and typically hold certifications for education and the specific handling of learning disabilities and special needs youth.

The goal of working with these professionals is to develop an individual education plan, or IEP, that can help to achieve self-determination in the child. All IEPs are created in consultation with the child and the parent, as well as school officials, as a way of realistically recognizing learning opportunities, long-term potential, and the drive toward self-determination. They are subject to constant revision as learning styles change, achievements mount, and success seems more imminent for the child.

An Understanding that Mistakes Create Great Teachable Moments

One of the things that can really encourage the development of self-determination is simply freeing them of a tendency toward parental protection or over-protection. Most learners need to understand that life is subject to mistakes, and that all actions do have consequences. These mistakes promote teachable moments that can help special needs children learn how to make better choices on their own, avoiding consequences that they find particularly unenjoyable.

These teachable moments are also combined with proactive education efforts, teaching special needs youth about handling their own decisions, making their own daily routine, and engaging in the kind of adult decision-making that will allow them to become free-thinking, independent adults when their time as a high school student ends and their time as an adult begins.

A Record of Success in Almost Every Case

In numerous studies, a self-determination education has been shown to produce real results for special needs learners. Those who engage in a self-determination curriculum are more likely to be employed than their peers who did not participate in the program. Furthermore, special needs adults were more likely to live independently, with great rates of success, as compared to those who did not receive this unique kind of education.

Self-determination is encouraged in individuals who understand that their decisions matter. Educational programs that emphasize self-determination are successful because they focus on teaching great decision-making. Learners are encouraged to address their mistakes and move on, and they're given the tools they need to communicate well, seek employment, and make adult decisions throughout the rest of their life. It is this supportive, but independent, environment that can make a real difference for special needs youth as they transition into the adult world.

Social Worker Resource