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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: Creating opportunities for youth with disabilities to achieve successful futures.

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E-mail this pageSelf-Determination for Middle and High School Students

This topic explores how self-determination--which results from the development of self-esteem, self-awareness, and other positive learning skills--helps children and teens learn to exercise personal control over their lives.


Self-determination is the drive to determine our own thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and choices over life events. It includes the internal motivation and self-awareness that encourages us to define personal goals based on our interests, preferences, values, and needs.

Self-determination is not an all-or-nothing set of skills. As youth with disabilities mature, they will probably experience different levels of skill and ability with regard to self-determination. Some may desire control over many life decisions, such as where they want to live, what kind of work they want to do, and what types of activities fulfill their recreational needs. Others may desire more support in order to take responsibility for certain aspects of their lives.

A key indicator of quality of life includes opportunities for youth to make decisions and to learn from the choices they make. In thinking about self-determination for youth with disabilities, consider the following questions:

  1. Do you ensure that goals related to self-determination are included on the Individualized Education Program of your child or students?
  2. What programs, resources, and processes are in place within your home, school, and community to ensure that youth with disabilities are supported to learn self-determination skills?
  3. What can be done to improve the quality of self-determination skills training in your school and community?

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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
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This page was last updated on January 12, 2022.