How well do students really understand themselves? Can they identify their areas of interest as well as the things they are good at and enjoy doing? Are they aware of their needs – those connected with their disabilities?

The responses to these questions are at the heart of self-determination skills, skills that students need to be successful both in school and in the community. Information about students’ strengths, interests and preferences, as well what is required to access their education, is included in the Present Levels of Performance sections of their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Still, many students remain unaware of these important aspects of themselves. This suggests that they may not be participating in the development of their IEPs, or are not aware of information in these documents, or both.

Research has consistently shown that students who are involved in the development of their own IEPs will have improved postsecondary outcomes in the areas of education and employment. (National Technical Assistance Center on Transition Evidence-based Practices and Predictors in Secondary Transition: What We Know and What We Still Need to Know,  This means that students who are more engaged in the development of their own planning processes, will likely have better outcomes as adults.

Educators and others can begin the self-determination process by asking a few questions.  While not all questions may be appropriate for all students, keep in mind that developing self-determination skills is a life-long journey beginning in elementary school or earlier.

  1. Can the student identify his or her disabilities or classifications?
  2. Can the student articulate how the disability affects learning at school and functioning outside school?
  3. Is each student aware that he or she has a specially developed IEP and Committee on Special Education (CSE) and that the purpose is to better access the education curriculum? For students aged 15 and older, the purpose is also to help develop postsecondary goals as well as opportunities to achieve them.
  4. Is the student aware of the programs, services, activities and goals that are in place to help him or her be successful?
  5. Does the student actively participate in his or her Annual Review meeting? Students who are age 15 and older must be invited to their meetings. Many districts opt to invite younger students to attend all or part of their meetings.
  6. Does the student understand how and when to disclose his or her needs, based on the disabilities, to outside professionals including employers, college counselors, intake coordinators and others?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” or “unsure,” it may be useful to address these areas with students.  To get some ideas about getting started, check out I’m Determined!, the featured School Tool listed above. I’m Determined! is a website offering direct instruction materials and resources promoting opportunities for students to learn and demonstrate self-determination practices.


National Technical Assistance Center on Transition Evidence-based Practices and Predictors in Secondary Transition: What We Know and What We Still Need to Know