Self-determination is important to student and youth success in and after school. It is a research-based predictor of positive outcomes for individuals with disabilities (Mazzotti et al., 2021). It has been a primary focus of interventions and supports in adult services, special education, and vocational rehabilitation for decades.

The “skills, knowledge, and beliefs needed to engage in goal-directed behaviors based on an understanding of one’s strengths, limitations, and self” (Field et al., 1998) has framed our understanding of this crucial component of successful transition planning and service delivery.

There are multiple definitions of self-determination, but generally, it describes individuals who:

  • act or cause things to happen as they set and work toward goals in their lives (Shogren, 2020) and who
  • make choices,
  • solve problems,
  • set goals,
  • evaluate options,
  • take initiative to reach one’s goals, and
  • accept consequences of one’s actions (Rowe et al., 2015).

Self-determination has been identified as an effective practice (see the Effective Practices topic), as have many of the components that when combined, support self- determination. Research identifies the components of self-determination to include:

  • Choice-making
  • Decision-making
  • Problem-solving
  • Goal-setting and attainment
  • Self-advocacy (knowledge of self and rights, communication, leadership)
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Self-efficacy

Often self-determination and self-advocacy are used interchangeably, yet in education and many other disability and research disciplines, self-advocacy is one element of self-determination.

The Rehabilitation Act, as amended by WIOA (2014) includes instruction in self-advocacy as one of the five required pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) provided by all State vocational rehabilitation agencies.

Quick Links

Related Topics

Effective Practices

Practitioners need information about using practices and programs that have been identified in research as effective for students and youth with disabilities. More about Effective Practices.

Postsecondary Education

There are many education and training opportunities students and youth with disabilities can access after high school. These resources can help prepare them for different expectations in different education environments. More about postsecondary education.

Pre-Employment Transition Services

This is training to begin exploring jobs and career interests through additional VR services and in collaboration with state and local education agencies to students with disabilities. Explore ways to provide these services to all students with disabilities who need them. More about Pre-Employment Transition Services.

Instruction in Self-Advocacy

Resources and information related to providing self-advocacy as a pre-employment transition service. More about Instruction in Self-Advocacy.

Guardianship and Alternatives

Guardianship can offer protection and help for people who can't decide for themselves, but it also means loss of significant freedoms and independence. That’s why it is critical that all transition stakeholders understand guardianship and alternatives to it. More about Guardianship and Alternatives.