A new measure of self-determination can benefit everyone

A new measure of self-determination can benefit everyone

Karen Henry

Michael Wehmeyer and Karrie Shogren are two of the leading scientific explorers on the frontiers of disability. Both are internationally known for applying the concept of self-determination to the context of disability and special education, conducting research and developing interventions that show that people with intellectual and other disabilities can and should determine how they live their lives.

As editor and contributor, respectively, of the 2013 Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Disability, Wehmeyer and Shogren argue that the expanding field of positive psychology, with its focus on strengths rather than deficits, has the potential to change how disability is understood and discussed.

In 1990, Wehmeyer looked at the outcomes for youth with disabilities, 15 years post IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and saw that young people weren’t doing as well as they should be in terms of employment, education and community participation because they weren’t involved in planning or determining their own lives.

Since then much progress has been made in practices and expectations for people with and without disability influenced by positive psychology and the social ecological model of disability—that the gap between a person’s capacity and the demands of the environment can become irrelevant with the right supports.

Wehmeyer and Shogren are developing an assessment, the Self-Determination Inventory System (SDIS), based on their research in self-determination and concepts in positive psychology that will enable researchers to measure the self- determination of students with and without disabilities.

They are developing and validating the Self-Determination Inventory-Self-Report version with 3,600 students, ages 13 to 22, with and without disabilities. Another 1,600 parents, teachers and adult caregivers will complete an adult-report version.

In practice, teachers would use the SDIS assessment scores to target instructional interventions and assess students on an ongoing basis to monitor progress, said Shogren. The Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction, developed by Wehmeyer and colleagues, for example, was designed to enable teachers to teach students to teach themselves. Although it was developed for students with disabilities, the focus on self-regulation, problem-solving and goal- setting is relevant for all students, she said.

“This is a seamless system,” said Wehmeyer, “that meets the demands of the 21st century classroom, workplace and community.”