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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Self-Determination - Topic 17

What is it?

Self-determination has been defined in multiple ways for the last 20 years. However, the underlying concept of self-determination involves making personal decisions based on one’s interests and beliefs. The component elements of self-determination that are commonly taught to students include choice/decision making, goal setting/attainment, problem solving, self-evaluation/management, self-advocacy, person-centered individualized education planning (IEP), and self -awareness (Wehmeyer & Field, 2007). All of these components emphasize the importance of students actively participating in their educational choices. For students with disabilities, self-determination allows meaningful participation in the IEP process.

Why is it important?

Beginning at age 14, students begin their transition from adolescence to adulthood. Self-determination is an important organizing tool and is essential for successful transition programs (Kohler & Field, 2003). By actively participating in the development of their transition IEP, students can make critical choices and actions that will affect them for a lifetime. Additionally, Wehmeyer and Palmer (2003) report that self-determination skills in high school are significant predictors of post school education and independent living success.


Kohler, P., & Field, S. (2003). Transition focused education: Foundation for the future. The Journal

of Special Education, 37(3), 174-183.  

Wehmeyer, M. L., & Field, S. (2007). Self-determination instructional and support strategies.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Wehmeyer, M. L., & Palmer, S. (2003). Adult outcomes for students with cognitive disabilites three

years after high school: The impact of self-determination. Education and Training in

Developmental Disabilities, 38, 131-144.

Web Links

Project 10 Transition Education Network

National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC)

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