AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
There has been a great deal of research reaffirming the power of serf-determination within the process of planning for the transition from school to adult life for a student with disabilities. Much of the focus of that research has been on teaching core component skills or changing parts of the process such as the transition Individualized Education Program meeting itself. Although these strategies are effective, they only begin to scratch the surface of what is necessary to facilitate serf-determined transition planning throughout the year. This article describes the efforts of one teacher to infuse self-determination throughout both the curriculum and the school year.
How can a special educator best prepare his or her students to become self-determined in the transition from school to adult life? With this question, one teacher, Karen Thomas, began her journey into the world of action research. She had read about self-determination and intuitively believed that it was necessary for effective transition planning. She read the work of Wehmeyer and colleagues (e.g., Wehmeyer, 1992; Wehmeyer & Sands, 1996) and understood conceptually what self-determination was. She read the work of Halpern et al. (1997); Fullerton (1998); and Mithaug, Wehmeyer, Agran, Martin, and Palmer (1998), which described curricula and/or strategies to teach self-determination skills to students with disabilities. She read about person-centered planning methods, such as the McGill Action Planning System (MAPS; Forest & Lusthaus, 1999) and Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope (PATH; Pearpoint, O'Brien, & Forest, 1993), which are described as methods for supporting student self-determination in transition planning (Hagner, Helm, & Butterworth, 1996). She also read the work of Abery and Stancliffe (1996), which recommended using an ecological approach to facilitating student self-determination in transition planning. An ecological approach would ensure that changes went beyond the individual student level to include changes at the small-group, organization, system, and even national levels. She decided that she needed help to sort it all out and to evaluate the effectiveness of any changes she made.
That is where we begin this study. Karen Thomas sought the help and support of a doctoral candidate at Indiana University, Mary Held, who was focusing her research on the areas of transition planning and teacher preparation. Ms. Held agreed to work with Ms. Thomas as part of the former's dissertation research (Held, 2003). This article will describe only part of that work, focusing on the impact that these changes had on the self-determined transition planning for one young man, John Jones, who has autism.
Research on Transition Planning and Implementation
Each year special educators are charged with facilitating the transition from high school to adult life for students with disabilities and their families. The national focus on transition began in the mid-1980s with the call from the director of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services for an "outcome oriented process encompassing a broad array of services and experiences that lead to employment" (Will, 1984). Since then, a number of laws have been passed to facilitate transition. In particular, P.L. 101-476, also known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, requires transition planning for all students with disabilities beginning by age 14 (20 U.S.C. 1401(a)(19)). Transition planning includes a focus on such postschool activities as employment, recreation, postsecondary education, self-determination, and community living and participation.
Self-determination in the transition planning process has been designated as one of the more critical issues for students with disabilities. Transition planning must take into account "the student's preferences and interests" (20 U.S.C. 1401(a)(19)). Recent literature about transition planning holds that self-determination is necessary for achieving this mandate (e.g., Martin & Huber-Marshall, 1995; Wehmeyer, 1996, 1998; Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1998).
Wehmeyer (1996) defined self-determination as "acting as the primary causal agent in one's life and making choices and decisions regarding one quality of life free from undue external influence or interference" (p. 24). Wehmeyer (1998) described self-determined behavior based on the purpose or function of a person's actions, and has described the components needed to design instructional activities for students. Those components include choice-making skills, self-advocacy skills, positive perceptions of control and efficacy, and serf-knowledge and awareness (Wehmeyer, Agran, & Hughes, 2000).
Facilitating student serf-determination can be difficult. Transition-related services traditionally have been team driven, whereby the professional circle, comprising transition specialists, vocational rehabilitation specialists, and administrators, tends to subordinate the student's and family's interests and preferences for supporting anticipated lifestyle changes. Researchers have found that even when parents and teachers believe they are supporting students in being self-determined, and when students have skills in the component areas of self-determination, the transition planning team does not always support student preferences and interests (Thoma, 1999; Thoma, Rogan, & Baker, 2001). Other researchers have found that even if students learn to make decisions, their preferences may not be acknowledged (Houghton, Bronicki, & Guess, 1987; Parsons & Reid, 1990). Ward (1988) stated that achieving self-determination "requires not only that people with disabilities develop inner resources, but that society support and respond" (p. 2) in the lifelong interplay between the individual and society. The interactive dynamics of transition planning meetings necessitate that changes by all parties occur to ensure that each student's voice and vision are heard and supported.
Little has been written, however, about how teachers can pull all of this together. Typically, research on facilitating self-determination in transition planning falls into one of three categories: teaching a specific core component skill, using a specific curriculum, or facilitating self-determination in the meeting or assessment process. Comprehensive studies that describe how a teacher can integrate these various strategies and recommendations are severely lacking--and this in spite of the fact that most teachers learn about self-determination strategies by reading about them in journal articles (Thoma, Saddler, & Baker, 2002).
Most research focuses on a particular component of self-determination. Wehmeyer (1998) suggested that there are 12 core component skills of self-determination: choice making; decision making; problem solving; goal setting and attainment; independence, risk taking, and safety; self-observation, evaluation, and reinforcement; self-instruction; serf-advocacy and leadership; internal locus of control; positive attributions of efficacy and outcome expectancy; self-awareness; and self-knowledge. Many researchers describe using a particular method to teach a core component skill (Agran & Hughes, 1997; Ezell & Klein, 2003; Flexer, Newbery, & Martin, 1979; Hughes, 1997).
Additional research has focused on using a specific self-determination curriculum. During …