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Nurturing Self-Determination In Youths With Disabilities

Nurturing Self-determination in Youths with Disabilities

Parents play a major role in the transition of their youth with disabilities from childhood to adulthood. As a driving force to this stage in development, parents should acknowledge that self-determination is an important component to the success of such transition. It helps foster positive behavior, informed decision-making, and relationship building which are the foundation of independence.

It is common knowledge to parents of youths with disabilities that the physical and psychological changes during adolescence can be a very daunting and awkward experience to a growing individual. This phase, in which a person transitions from childhood to adulthood, is a critical time for the formation of self-determination, which is “the ability to identify and achieve goals based in a foundation of knowing and valuing oneself” (Field & Hoffman, 1994, p. 164).

Self-determination is necessary to nurture the growth of an adolescent, and although it is equally important to typical adolescents, those with disabilities particularly require “instructional emphasis and support system” (Field, Hoffman & Posch, 1997, p.2) because they have to handle much more difficult situations and have to face confusing factors such as (Field, Hoffman, and Posch, 1997, p. 2):

  • “Physical, cognitive or behavioral issues associated with their disability;
  • Social relationship issues and possible stigma resulting from disability status;
  • A heightened concern of parents and family members related to increased independence of the adolescent; and
  • Inability of systems (e.g., schools, employers, agencies) to adequately accommodate the needs of adolescents with disabilities.”

While it is true that the often insufficient availability of external support systems and unreliable delivery of service can make parents become increasingly protective of their youth with disabilities when it comes to making decisions, which is a crucial factor in developing self-determination, strong parental support can become a major barrier to being self-determined. It is thus imperative that parents should gradually shift control of making a decision for their adolescent for a smooth transition into adulthood and enhancement of self-determination.

There are several special education instructional strategies available for parents to help encourage self-determination in adolescents with disabilities, which are also applicable to typical adolescents, these include:

  • Individual or small-group activities;
  • Modeling;
  • Roleplay;
  • Performance feedback via videotaping;
  • Use of case studies or specific scenarios;
  • Self-generated activities;
  • Simulated situations, and
  • Community-based instruction.

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Parent Waitlist Program


November 02, 2023 | 12pm-1pm PDT

Journey to Independence

Community-based program designed to support families on waitlist

Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

Mother Child
Special Learning’s Free Hotline

This is an independent SL Hotline that is part of our VCAT service. This hotline has no connection with any other association or membership group.

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