Think College

Think College

Supporting Self-Advocacy
& Self-Determination Skills

Student Panel speaker

Self-determination is generally defined as having the knowledge, skills, and attitudes a person needs to have autonomy and responsibility for his/her life. There are seven domains, or skill areas, of self-determination. These include choice making, decision making, problem solving, goal setting, self-advocacy and leadership, self-management and self-regulation, and self-awareness.

Self-determination skills have been linked to improved post high-school outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Students who are more self-determined tend to be more involved in their educational planning and decision making1 and they have a higher rate of employment and pay than peers with fewer self-determination skills2.

In the college setting, students thrive when they can problem solve, advocate for themselves, request needed accommodations, and manage their own time and behavior. These skills can be practiced throughout the K-12 years, at home, and in the community.

Besides the student becoming more independent and able to advocate for him/herself, the family may need to advocate to have postsecondary education goals in an IEP, to include college classes as part of a transition plan, and to help a student gain access into college.


  • Encourage students to participate in and/or lead IEP meetings.
  • Help students gain greater self-awareness and advocacy skills.
  • Build advocacy skills among family members through leadership and advocacy training.

[1] Wehmeyer, M. L., & Ward, M. J. (1995). The spirit of the IDEA mandate: Student involvement in transition planning. Journal of Vocational Special Needs Education, 17, 108-111.
[2] Wehmeyer, M., & Schwartz, M. (1997). Self-determination and positive adult outcomes: A follow-up study of youth with mental retardation or learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 63, 245-255.

Last modified Friday, April 5th, 2013