Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Self-Determination for Students with Disabilities: Views of Parents and Teachers

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Self-Determination for Students with Disabilities: Views of Parents and Teachers

Article excerpt

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A critical marker of the success of special education services is the degree to which students with disabilities become a guiding force in their own lives (Agran, Blanchard, & Wehmeyer, 2000; Wehmeyer, 1992). Halpern (1994, p. 118) argued "if the transition process is to be successful, it must begin with helping students to gain a sense of empowerment with respect to their own transition planning." As the process of creating and implementing transition plans for students with disabilities evolved, it became increasingly evident that students with disabilities needed instruction in gaining this sense of empowerment as well as in how to evaluate options and advocate for themselves (Abery, 1994; Mithaug, Wehmeyer, Agran, Martin, & Palmer, 1998; Wehmeyer, 1996). Instructional activities that address these skill areas are collectively referred to as self-determination.

In 1988, the Secondary Education and Transitional Service for Youth with Disabilities Program within the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) implemented a self-determination initiative to provide people with disabilities with more input in the decisions that affect their lives (Ward, 1991). OSERS supported 26 model demonstration projects designed to identify and teach skills necessary for self-determination. Many of the products, curricula, and assessment instruments that are used today to support the development of self-determination in schools for students with disabilities, along with the limited amount of research that currently exists, were a result of this initiative (i.e., Abery, Rudrud, Arndt, Schauben, & Eggebeen, 1995; Algozzine, Browder, Karvonen, Test, & Wood, 2001; Browder, Wood, Test, Algozzine, & Karvonen, 2001; Martin & Marshall, 1998; Sands & Doll, 1996; Schloss, Alper, & Jayne, 1993; Wehmeyer, 1994, 1996).

In addition to this federal funding, the Final Regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997, P.L. 105-17, provided further support for self-determination by including provisions that strengthened the involvement of students by stating that (Assistance to States, 1999): "students with disabilities be invited to any IEP [individualized education program] meetings for which a purpose is the consideration ... of transition services" (p. 12440), and that the "transition services provided to each student be ... based on the individual student's needs, taking into account the student's preferences and interests" (p. 12475). This was an important mandate because student involvement as specified in the IDEA Amendments of 1997 places its intent and spirit in line with efforts to promote self-determination and consumer choice. To gauge the impact that this language has had on practices implemented in schools it is necessary to examine both a parent and teacher perspective as each provides a vital role in the development of self-determination for students with disabilities. The following will briefly review our current knowledge about these two groups and describe how their perspectives were sought in the current study.

Parental support and family involvement are recognized by all stakeholders as critical factors in the development of self-determination for students with disabilities (Abery, 1994; Field & Hoffman 1994; Martin & Marshall, 1998; Mithaug et al. 1998; Wehmeyer, 1996). Although there is a growing literature on the skills and competencies underlying the development of self-determination in the home (Sands & Doll, 1996; Ward, 1991), as well as personal reflections on self-determination by people with disabilities or their family members (Ferguson, 1998; Kennedy, 1998; Ward, 1988), there is little research that documents parents' knowledge or perceptions of self-determination. As teachers increasingly infuse self-determination into school curricula, however, it is important to examine more fully parents' beliefs about self-determination, including how these beliefs are related to different types of disabilities. …

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