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We all want to control our futures and have a say in how we lead our lives. Leading a self-determined life can be a challenge for anyone but it’s even more difficult for those with disabilities or complex medical needs. This group likely has few chances to practice and may need the help of family and other supports to plan for their future.

What is Self Determination?

Self determination is the belief that you can control your future. It is about being in charge but it’s not necessarily the same thing as self sufficiency or independence. It means making your own choices, learning to solve problems and taking control and responsibility for your own life. Practicing self determination also means that you experience the consequences of making choices.

Many of the changes over the last several years in how supports and services are administered in Wisconsin for adults and children with disabilities is based on the concept of self determination.

Programs like IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct) were created to give participants full control over who cares for them, what services are most important to them, and how funds are used. Programs like the Children’s Long-Term Support Program and Family Care give youth and their families the opportunity to self direct some or all of their services.

How Can Families Help?

For Younger Children: Give your child choices about what to wear, what to have for a snack, what to pack for school lunch, and which games or activities to play. This is the time to start building opportunities for your children to have some control over their world!

For Teens or Older Children: Allow your teen to take part in, or even lead, the IEP meeting. Have him check himself in at doctor’s appointments. Or give her a small amount of money that she controls and decides how and when to spend it.

Preparing Ourselves: We need to prepare ourselves for this change and accept our children in this new, more adult role. We need to allow them to take an active role in the decisions that will determine their futures—even if it means allowing them to make a few mistakes.

Allowing our children to make their own choices may be more time consuming and may involve increasing our tolerance for risk. But in return, it leads to a path for long-term growth and development for our children.

Learn More!

We recommend the following resources for more information on self determination.

Learn steps your teen can take to prepare for adult life. Action steps and ideas for those ages 14 through 18 and activities to plan for the future are included in this new, easy to use, online resource beforeage18.org.


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