What is Self-Determination?

by A Practical Guide for Teaching Self-Detemination on May 1, 1998
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 What is Self-Determination?


Self determination is a combination of skills, knowledge and beliefs that enable a person to engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous behavior. An understanding of one’s strengths and limitations together with a belief in oneself as capable and effective are essential to self-determination. When acting on the basis of these skills and attitudes, individuals have greater ability to take control of their lives and assume the role of successful adults in society.

What Are Some of the Characteristics of Self-Determined People?

Self-determined people exhibit a set of characteristics that enable them to fulfill roles typically associated with adulthood. There is wide agreement on some, if not most, of the characteristics of self-determination. The following have been proposed across multiple models or frameworks as characteristics of self-determined individuals:

  • Awareness of personal preferences, interests, strengths, and limitations.
  • Ability to differentiate between wants and needs.
  • Ability to make choices based on preferences, interests, wants and needs.
  • Ability to consider multiple options and to anticipate consequences for decisions.
  • Ability to initiate and take action when needed.
  • Ability to evaluate decisions based on the outcomes of previous decisions and to revise future decisions accordingly.
  • Ability to set and work toward goals.
  • Problem solving skills
  • A striving for independence while recognizing interdependence with others.
  • Self-advocacy skills.
  • Independent performance and adjustment skills.
  • Persistence.
  • Ability to use communication skills such as negotiation, compromise, and persuasion to reach goals.
  • Ability to assume responsibility for actions and decisions.
  • Self-confidence.
  • Pride.
  • Creativity.

From: A Practical Guide for Teaching Self-Determination, Sharon Field, Jim Martin, et al, Reston VA: Council for Exceptional Children, 1998.

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