What is self-determination?

We're glad you asked! We have looked at self-determination as an adult outcome. Self-determination refers to "acting as the primary causal agent in one's life and making choices and decisions regarding one's quality of life free from undue external influence or interference" (Wehmeyer, 1994). That means that people who are self-determined take control of their lives, make choices and decisions based on their interests, abilities and preferences, and take responsibility for their lives. .

Why is self-determination an important outcome for people with mental retardation?

Self-determination is highly valued in our society. People who are self-determined make choices based on their preferences, beliefs and abilities, take control over and participate in decisions which impact the quality of their lives, take risks and assume responsibility for their actions, and advocate on behalf of themselves and others. Self-determination is one marker of adulthood, and self-determined people are viewed as worthy of respect and valued by others.

Many people with mental retardation have not had the opportunity to become self-determined or to learn the skills and have the daily experiences that will enable them to take more control and make choices in their lives. Instead, they often experience over-protection and segregation, are not included in decisions that impact their lives, and have limited opportunities to make choices as well as limited options from which to choose.

Many people assume that people with mental retardation cannot become self-determined. However, research and practice has shown that, when given adequate support, learning opportunities and experiences, people with mental retardation can learn to become more self-determined, to assume greater control over and responsibility for their lives, and can improve their quality of life. The lack of such supports, learning opportunities and experiences is, in essence, denying people with mental retardation the right to become self-determined, valued, and respected members of our communities.