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Self Determination for High School Students with Autism

written by: jenniferterry • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 9/11/2012

High school children with autism or other developmental disabilities may need a self-determination curriculum. When others have learned the ability and power of decision making, children who are isolated or have limited experiences need these skills taught directly.

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    Self Determination for High School Students with Autism

    Children who develop within the recognized physiological and cognitive parameters of development will typically go through various social and emotional interactions beginning in infancy. These interactions shape the way we form decisions. When a child does not participate (or has limited participation) in social interactions, they miss opportunities to make connections between their desires and how to make them a reality. This creates a lack of self-determination skills necessary to becoming independent in adulthood.

    Often children with disabilities are protected by their families, friends and even teachers. Decisions are made for them based on what other people think they want. This can result in a child becoming further detached from his own happiness. In these situations, self-determination skills do not occur naturally and should become part of the child's school and home curriculum.

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    Self-Determination in High School

    Ideally, a child would begin to gain self-determination skills in elementary school. If not, the teacher can develop a program based on the students present level of abilities. Begin by observing the student and those who surround him. How many choices does he make on his own? Does he make inappropriate choices or minimal choices? This will make a difference in how you proceed with his plan.

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    Inappropriate Choices

    Examples of inappropriate choices might be that he chooses to wear shorts on top of his pants, chooses to put a cup of sugar in scrambled eggs and so forth. The positive side to this is that he does realize he has a choice and this is what he chooses to do. The negative is that he will not be accepted by his peers and will be unable to eat his eggs. If the child is making inappropriate choices your plan will consist of allowing the child to realize the consequences of his choice without intervening. After this experience discuss the decision and outcome with the child. Ask for alternative choices that could be made next time. You may create a picture recipe that provides the discussed appropriate choices depending on the child's cognitive level.

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    Minimal Choices

    If the child makes minimal choices, a beginners self-determination plan should be instated. To create a plan for the child, identify parts of the day in which a choice can be made. Loose some of the rigidness of the daily routine to allow for choice-making.

    In the morning the child can choose where he wants to hang his coat.

    As a high schooler, he should be encouraged to buy his snack from the machine so he may choose. If he brings a snack from home, ask the family to include two so he may choose which one.

    He may help arrange his task schedule for the day.

    After making any of the choices he should be held to those decisions and not allowed to swap. This will teach the child the consequence or rewards of his decisions.

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    The Importance of Self-Determination Plan

    Self-determination is a necessary skill for all adults. Creating opportunities for children to develop and enhance these skills allows the child the capacity to become a successful adult.


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