Young children can begin to display self-determined behaviors early in life, with support from their families and teachers. Although young children are dependent on others for caregiving and support, they can begin to attain and use skills such as choice-making, simple problem solving, and making a few supported decisions related to age-appropriate activities before they can become self-determined later in life. Adults in the lives of young children can foster foundations of self-determination by promoting autonomy and self-regulation in safe environments within the home, school, and community.

  • A Parent’s Guide to the Self-Determined Learning Model for Early Elementary Students (PDF)
  • A Teacher’s Guide to Implementing the SDLMI for Elementary Teachers (PDF)
  • Ten Steps to Self-Determination (PDF)


For youth and young adults, self-determination is essentially the development of causal agency. This occurs through volitional action, agentic action, and action-control beliefs by using accommodations if necessary. Through experiences or with other people providing opportunities for using self-determined actions, one can achieve preferred outcomes. Teachers, families, and others should also have high expectations for youth with IEPs to achieve to the utmost of their abilities. Self-determination is an important part of successful transition from school to work or to be college or career-ready. Self-determined principles support active engagement and participation in aspects of the general education curriculum and all activities in which students without disabilities do at school. Students in high school can set goals for what they wish to do later in life and pursue a plan to attain a desired quality of life as an adult.

  • A Teacher’s Guide to implementing SDLMI – Adolescent Version (PDF)
  • Whose Future is it Anyway (PDF)
  • The Self-Determination Inventory Self-Report
  • The Arc's Self-Determination Scale-Adolescent Version (PDF)
  • The Arc's Self-Determination Scale-Adolescent Version: Procedural Guidelines (PDF)


Beyond volitional action described in transition, self-determination should also be seen as an individual characteristic of people that can be displayed in many aspects of a person’s life. Self-determination is not only disability-related, but it is a construct that applies to each and every person as they move through the day. Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities often use self-determined learning and strategies to set up an annual plan, obtain and maintain employment, to find a place to live and get involved in their community, and to self-direct decision making in lieu of guardianship.

  •  It’s My Future (PDF)
  • What is Self-Determination and Why is it Important (PDF)
  • The Arc's Self-Determination Scale-Adult Version (PDF)
  • The Arc's Self-Determination Scale-Adult Version: Procedural Guidelines (PDF)

Life Span

Combining self-determination information for children and families, transition, and adulthood collectively provides a lifespan perspective. Some materials about self-determination discuss a continuous effort on the part of individuals, families, and others to promote self-determination over time, without age-specific limitations. Although young children cannot be fully self-determined, others can support young children to be a part of the community and have experiences which build self-determined skills over the time young people are in elementary and secondary school. Then, during transition to adulthood, and later on as adults, there are even more opportunities to use volitional action to experience a desired quality of life that fits expectations and supports self-determined behavior across the ages within the lifespan.

  • SD Across the Lifespan (PDF)
  • Self-Determination and People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (PDF)

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