What is Self-Determination?

Self-Determination - when individuals are in control of their own lives and futures.

Empowering students with disabilities to participate in decisions and plans that impact their life after high school will lead to greater lifelong self-determination. Developing the skills for students with disabilities to advocate for themselves by representing their own views and interests to influence the direction of their lives by actively participating in the decision-making process. These practices are a research-based predictor of post-school success for students with disabilities included in the Taxonomy for Transition Programming developed by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT).

According to the New York State Education Department’s Blueprint for Improved Results for Students with Disabilities, all students should engage in self-advocacy and help determine their own educational goals. This is realized when:

  • Students participate in individualized education program (IEP) meetings
  • Students create and monitor their progress towards academic and social goals.
  • Students engage in career planning and selection of course studies to prepare them for post-secondary living, working, and learning.

One way to address the Blueprint components is to provide instruction and engage students and families in the student-directed IEP process in order to build skills for self-advocacy and self-determination. The self-directed IEP process is an evidence-based practice for students with disabilities and has a long history of increasing student success.

Students must be invited to meetings of their CSE when transition goals and services will be discussed (pursuant to section 200.5(c)(2)(vii) of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education). Best practice engagement in the student-directed IEP process is possible when students are not only in attendance at their meetings, but are actively involved in the planning process, with their voices and preferences driving the process of IEP development.

Students learn more about the supports and services needed to help them succeed when preparing to direct their own IEPs. Engaging in this process and learning these skills helps students create a plan to advocate for accommodations and supports as needed after high school.

This process is also beneficial for parents and educators; adults learn what students want, see them advocate for themselves, allow them to make choices for themselves, and observe increases in confidence, self-advocacy and public speaking skills for the students.

Many texts address the IEP process. One that helps educators learn the student-directed approach: Thoma, C., & Wehman, P. (Eds.). (2010). Getting the most out of IEPs. Baltimore, MD: Brookes. This text is used by the participants in some of the videos and podcasts below.


These NY secondary transition podcasts feature practitioners from New York State schools discussing how they approach and implement student-directed IEPs. They also feature a parent’s perspective on their child’s experiences with the process. These podcasts serve as an introduction to some of the concepts further explored in the student-directed IEP video series.

podcast icon Listen to Podcasts on Self-Determination


These videos provide actual examples of student-directed IEP processes taking place in New York State schools and include perspectives from teachers, administrators, other school personnel, parents, and students.

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  • Video: Getting Started

    Duration - 7:09
  • Video: Collaboration

    Duration - 8:02
  • Video: Student Outcomes

    Duration - 5:54

If you have questions about these podcasts, contact info@transitionsource.org.

Student and Parent Resources

Youth Power! - A New York State advocacy network run for and by youth and young adults.

Self-Advocacy: 5 Tips from a Student - An article by a student addressed to other students with disabilities, from the National Center on Learning Disabilities.

Download: Tips for Encouraging Student Participation in IEP Meetings - A tip sheet on IEP participation developed by a parent center, Include NYC.

Additional Resources

Self-Determination Tools from I'm Determined! - A series of documents (assessments and checklists) to assist educators in making decisions regarding self-determination practices in the classroom or school.

Download: Fast Facts: Self-Determination/Self-Advocacy - A fact sheet for the Council for Exceptional Children, Division on Career Development and Transition, part of a larger Fast Facts collection.

Download: Self-Directed IEP Teacher's Manual - Developed by the Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment at the University of Oklahoma.

Download: Self-Determination Brief - Developed by the PDSC, this brief introduces Self-Determination and provides additional resources.