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Self-Determination: A Skill Set Worth Achieving Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L



Transition to Independence


Self-Determination: A Skill Set Worth Achieving Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L .

Did you know that the cluster of attitudes and skills that fall under the umbrella of “self-determination” have been shown to be one of the strongest predictors of success for people with disabilities’ attainment of their transition goals? It’s as necessary to quality of life and independence as the other basic activities of daily living (“ADLs”) we traditionally focus on and, like grooming and hygiene, it’s a teachable skill set.

What exactly is meant by self-determination? It includes (a) supporting the development of certain knowledge, attitudes and abilities, and (b) preparing the social environment to receive, reward and appreciate newly developing assertiveness.

The knowledge needed includes:

• That there are choices to be made
• What’s possible– what are the choices in any given situation?
• Identifying and understanding one’s own emotions / thoughts as they arise
• Identifying problems and options for their resolution

Attitudes needed:

• Considering oneself worthy and capable of making choices and decisions
• Owning one’s personal strengths and limitations in general
• Being aware and considerate of others’ perspectives and needs
• Assuming responsibility for making personal choices and decisions
• Assuming responsibility for identifying and resolving problems
• Being comfortable with asking for help, owning errors and limitations
• Comfort in setting limits and refusing

Behaviors needed :

• Making choices and decisions
• Making wishes known
• Asking for assistance
• Describing preferences and needs
• Self-management skills for coping with emotions
• Effective and polite refusal/limit-setting

In addition to teaching and supporting the development of knowledge, skills and actions, we need to make sure that learners are supported (and not punished) for their efforts toward self-determination. People with disabilities are consistently rewarded for compliance. They often learn to agree with whatever others suggest. This can result in learned passivity and a high tolerance for frustration. These patterns may make life easier for others, but ultimately leave the individual in question vulnerable, unable to direct their own lives, and unfulfilled.

As a parent or teacher, you may find that a more independent and self-directed person can be more complicated to live with. It’ll help to remember how important self-determination is to that person’s attaining a richer, more satisfying, and safer life. It’s important to know what the person is learning and practicing at each phase so you can respond supportively. Of course not every request or choice can be accommodated, but you can always show respect and be understanding.

It is never too late or too early to facilitate the path toward increased self-determination, and clients of all sorts can benefit. Self-determination can be an important part of the OT intervention plan, so be sure to ask for its inclusion in the OT intervention plan!

References and Resources:

Increasing Student Success through Instructional Self-Determination

National Gateway to Self-Determination

Self-Determination: Supporting Successful Transition