Still, Mason indicates that the opposite is often true in public education settings, where educators, parents and institutions collectively overlook the implications of research and demands imposed by law. Indeed, "despite the IDEA requirements, research results, teacher perceptions, and strong encouragement from disabilities rights advocate, many youth have been left out of IEP and self-determination activities. For example, 31% of the teaches in a 1998 survey reported that they wrote no self-determination goals, and 41% indicated they did not have sufficient training or information on teaching self-determination." (Mason et al., 442)
This is a troubling finding, and one which implicates the needed paradigm shift discussed already in the research endeavor. Clearly, as the matter is framed by Mason et al., educators and researchers have already acknowledged the value in the strategies addressed here. By contrast, institutional change has been hard won, with schools and administrators balking at making broad-based alterations in traditional approaches to special education planning. As the Mason et al. article demonstrates, this is not simply a problem of practical shortcoming, but far more troubling, it is a civil rights issue as well. As underscored by the focus of the article by Test et al. (2005), the denial of input and the failure to emphasize self-determination in educational goals for special needs individuals is something of an exploitation. The likely incapacity of the individual in question to demand personal volition in the shaping of educational goals or to express specific needs without proper prompting denotes a responsibility on the part of schools, parents and educators to help stimulate these capacities. Though it is rarely the case that such exploitation is done intentionally, it is based on an unfair perception of special needs individuals which in and of itself can be stultifying to the prospects of personal development. As Test et al. indicated, "individuals with disabilities who are strong self-advocates often challenge the perceptions of others who view them as incapable of making decisions about their own lives and needing professional for guidance and protection. This overproduction by authority figures and fostered dependence on others to articulate one's needs has negative affected the autonomy of individuals with disabilities." (Test et al., 43)
Most assuredly, this means that the research conducted here is not only given foundation by the prospects and opportunities in invoking self-determination and self-advocacy but, perhaps more compellingly, we find that to fail to invoke these things will constitute a fundamental failure on the part of educators and educational institutions that can be detrimental to the future of special needs individuals. Certainly, teachers can play a central role in working to overcome limitations imposed by institutional unresponsiveness to progressive research findings. Such is the primary thesis of the research conducted by Muray & Pianta (2007), which makes as its primary point the argument that within the student-teacher relationship rests one of the greatest opportunities to observe the benefits to encouraging self-determination which are universal to students of almost any level of need. To the point, Murray & Pianta indicate that "many teachers are already aware of the power and importance of teacher-students relationships. This awareness is derived from the common experience of direct interactions with students who respond positively to increased personal attention and support from teachers." (Murray & Pianta, 105)
By and large, strategies will center on this most important premise, that the relationship between teacher and student will be a fundamental effecter in enabling the utilization of self-advocacy-based strategies and in encouraging the development of self-determination habits and ambitions in the special needs student. Survey studies conducted amongst teachers with respect to strategies of self-determination tend to overwhelmingly support the finding that teachers view the inherent benefits both to the immediate goals of education and the to the long-term goals in training positive habits and behaviors in the transition to secondary or vocational education and professional development or at least living independence on some level. This is denoted in the study by Wheymeyer et al. (2000), which reports on the findings of broadly distributed survey instruments relating to the subject. Casting surveys to special education and inclusion teachers on a national level, Wheymeyer et al. find that there were specific areas of focus which were essential to promoting positive outcomes in self-determination. Acoordingly, their research found that "decision making, problem solving, and choice making received the highest mean rankings. The mean score for the question asking teachers to what extent promoting self-determination would help prepare students for success in school was 4.84 (out of 6 possible), while the mean score for the identical question focusing on success for postschool life was 5.27." (Wheymeyer, 62) This provides a fundamental base for support of the paradigm shift endorsed by the research here, illustrating that most educators consulted on the subject have already experienced independent success by integrating these strategies into a curricular approach.
Steps to Curricular Development:
Based on the research conducted here above, it is clear that there are a number of steps which must be taken to enable the shift in paradigm demanded by the confirmation of the research hypothesis. These steps provide a skeletal framework for further elaboration of a self-advocacy and self-determination-based curricular approach.
First and foremost, research contends to the legal, ethical and practical importance of involving the student in the construction of his or her IEP. This step will ensure that the student is made aware of his educational plan and that its designers are made aware of the student's expectations and desires there from.
The second step will be to tie the IEP to transition goals and support opportunities. This means continuing the process of involving the student by helping to site ambitions and aims after education, relieving the uncertainty that limits parents, teachers and students from focusing educational plans on long-term goals.
The third step will be to ensure that the IEP and administrative demands are concordant. Given the focus on paradigm shift here discussed, this means that administrative policy should be adjusted to meet the practical realities suggested by IEPs, and not the contrary as is typically the case today.
The emphasis also on the value of teachers in realizing self-advocacy goals must be underscored by a fourth step, the specialized teacher training and workshopping illuminating best practices and most current theories on methods of invoking self-advocacy.
The fifth step would be the implementation of curriculum, with teachers acting on the modes of self-determination proven to yield results, among them the application of influence in areas of problem-solving, content selection, self-expression, creative freedom and a host of emergent strategies for individualized education.
Research overwhelmingly supports the argument that methods of encouraging self-advocacy and invoking long-term self-determination are not just constructive and valuable for students, but that those current models which fail to achieve this result are actually damaging to the potential of special needs students to achieve educational success, professional development or a desirable quality of life. The argument in favor of creating a greater emphasis on self-advocacy through curriculum design is underscored by research supporting its proven long-term transition and lifestyle benefits; by the broad-based consensus amongst educators as to the value of self-determination for special needs students; and by prevailing legal, ethical and practical standards concerning the treatment of special needs or disabled persons in American education and society.
Beresford, B. (2004). On the Road to Nowhere? Young Disabled People and Transition. Child: Care, Health and Development, 30(6).
Department of Education (DOE). (2007). Guide to the Individualized Education Program. United States Department of Education. Online at http://www.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html.
Katsiyannis, A.; deFur, S. & Conderman, G. (1998). Transition Services -- Systems Change for Youth with Disabilities? A Review of State Practices? The Journal of Special Education, 32(2), 55-61.
Mason, C.; Field, S. & Sawilowsky, S. (2004). Implementation of self-determination activities and student participation in IEPs. Council for Exceptional Children, 70(4), 441-451.
Murray, C. & Pianta, R.C. (2007). The Importance of Teacher-Student Relationships for Adolescents with High Incidence Disabilities. Theory Into Practice, 46(2), 105-112.
Nota, L.; Ferrari, L.; Soresi, S. & Wehmeyer, M. (2007). Self-determination, social abilities and the quality of life of people with intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 51(11), 850-865.
Test, D.W.; Fowlers, C.H.; Wood, W.M.; Brewer, D.M. & Eddy, S. (2005). A Conceptual framework of self-advocacy for students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 26I (1), 43-54.…