Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Self-Determination and Positive Adult Outcomes: A Follow-Up Study of Youth with Mental Retardation or Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Self-Determination and Positive Adult Outcomes: A Follow-Up Study of Youth with Mental Retardation or Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

From 1989 to 1993 the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs funded a series of model-demonstration projects to promote self-determination for youth with disabilities (Ward & Kohler, 1996). This funding initiative was implemented in response to (a) the growing body of literature indicating that students with disabilities were graduating to generally disappointing adult outcomes (Chadsey-Rusch, Rusch, & O'Reilly, 1991) and (b) the call from people with disabilities for increased choice and more control over decisions that impact their lives (Gagne, 1994; Kennedy, 1996). Self-determination has been identified as a critical outcome of the transition process for students with disabilities (Halloran, 1993; Wehman, 1993).

There are a number of reasons why educators should devote instructional time and resources to promoting self-determination. First, adults with disabilities have consistently emphasized the importance of this outcome for an enhanced quality of life (Gagne, 1994; Kennedy, 1996). Second, the acquisition of attitudes and abilities related to self-determination can contribute to increased student involvement in educational planning and decision making (darn Reusen & Bos, 1994; Wehmeyer & Ward, 1995). Third, students who leave school as self-determined young people should achieve more positive adult outcomes.

Although this third reason has considerable face validity, it remains essentially an untested hypothesis because, until recently, there have been few definitional frameworks within which to evaluate self-determination as an educational outcome, and even fewer means of measuring such an outcome. Wehmeyer (1996) defined self-determination as "acting as the primary causal agent in ones life and making choices and decisions regarding ones quality of life free from undue external influence or interference [italics added]." (p. 22). A causal agent makes or causes things to happen in his or her life (Deci & Ryan, 1985).

In this definitional framework, an act or event is self-determined if the individual's action(s) reflect four essential characteristics: (a) the individual acts autonomously; (b) the behaviors are self-regulated; (c) the person initiates and responds to event(s) in a "psychologically empowered" manner; and (d) the person acts in self-realizing manner (Wehmeyer, 1996). Behavior is

1. Autonomous if the person acts according to his or her own preferences, interests and/or abilities, and independently, free from undue external influence or interference.

2. Self-regulated if people make decisions about which skills to use in a situation; examine the task at hand and their available repertoire; and formulate, enact, and evaluate a plan of action with revisions when necessary.

3. Psychologically empowered if people act based on the beliefs that they have the capacity to perform behaviors needed to influence outcomes in their environment and, if they perform such behaviors, anticipated outcomes will result.

4. Self-realized if people use a comprehensive, and reasonably accurate, knowledge of themselves and their strengths and limitations to act in such a manner as to capitalize on this knowledge in a beneficial way. (Wehmeyer, 1996)

Wehmeyer, Kelchner, and Richards (1996) conducted an empirical validation of this conceptual framework with more than 400 adults with mental retardation in which data were collected on self-determined behavior and each of the four essential characteristics. The sample was divided into two dichotomous groups based on the performance of behaviors generally agreed upon as reflecting self-determination. Analyses indicated that, on measures of each of the four essential characteristics, there were significant differences between individuals who engaged in behaviors reflecting self-determination and those who did not.

Based on these findings, we developed and field-tested a self-report measure of self-determination for adolescents with cognitive disabilities. …

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