Foundations of Self Determination

Establishing the Foundations for Self-Determination in Young Children with Low-incidence Disabilities

Funded by: U. S. Department of Education
Grant # H324M990044
Charity Rowland, PhD., Principal Investigator
Phillip Schweigert, M.Ed., Co-Principal Investigator
Dates: 10/01/1999 through 9/10/2004  


The goal of this proposal was to develop classroom-wide instructional approaches that establish the foundations for self-determination in young children with low-incidence disabilities. Self-determination is the capacity to control one's life, to set and achieve goals, and to participate fully and meaningfully in society. Self-determination is integral to self-esteem and a high quality of life. The concept of self-determination has been developed largely with the needs of youths and adults in mind and has historically been applied to individuals who are able to clearly express their preferences. Younger children and children who can't express themselves in any conventional way have thus far remained on the fringes of the dialogue about self-determination. 

For a young child, the foundations of self-determination lie in the ability to interact effectively with the people and objects in the environment. The ability to interact with other people requires social/ communication skills and the ability to interact with the physical environment requires cognitively-based problem solving skills. Communication and cognitive skills are essential foundations to the expression of needs and desires and to the direction of one's own actions upon the physical environment--whether in the realm of daily living skills, academic pursuits or social and recreational activities.In the last ten years some useful strategies for assessing and teaching children with low-incidence disabilities have been developed. Yet our experience has shown that even when appropriate instructional targets are chosen, teachers still have difficulty providing sufficient opportunities for students to practice and demonstrate new skills, often teaching them in isolation in non-functional contexts and without regard to generalization. There is a bigger picture involved--a classroom-wide approach--that is needed to infuse the whole classroom experience with an emphasis on developing the skills that are the foundations for self-determination.

We have developed two sets of materials that describe how to teach functional communication skills and mastery of the physical environment to children with low-incidence disabilities in regular classroom activities. These materials show the teacher how to assess the communicative and cognitive skills of the nonverbal child and how to evaluate the degree to which specific classroom activities encourage or discourage the development of these skills. This project took these two sets of materials and  integrate them in demonstration and replication phases in classrooms that included nonverbal children with low-incidence disabilities (pervasive developmental disorders, deaf-blindness and multiple disabilities). The goal was to demonstrate how teachers may provide opportunities for children to develop new communicative and cognitive skills across the entire spectrum of everyday classroom activities. Final products included print and video materials designed to show teachers how to assess their students, how to weave opportunities for their students to master the social and physical environments into all activities, and how to evaluate the success of their classrooms in promoting self-determination. The project was conducted in regular public schools in Oregon, California, Washington and Texas.

Additional Information Related to this Project: