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Summertime and Self-Determination
Tips for Families and Students

Summer is a great time to focus on self-determination and independence. Self-determination skills are critical long-term life skills that allow children to make choices and decisions based on their preferences and interests and to set goals for their own lives. So as we approach the long, hot, hazy days of summer, here are some opportunities for increasing your child’s self-determination and independence.

  • Research says that people with disabilities with the highest self-care skills — whether as adults or in childhood — were most likely to maintain employment, work more hours and need fewer supports on the job. Give your child the opportunity to perform everyday tasks such as getting dressed, brushing hair, taking a shower, brushing teeth, etc., as independently as possible. Writing or providing pictures of the steps within each of these tasks will help increase your child’s independence.

  • Give your child the opportunity to make choices about their summer activities. This may be done by providing him or her with a list of activities and allowing a limited number of choices. Be sure that whatever choices you provide can be honored. 

  • Work with your child to identify a list of chores he or she can do to contribute to the household. Create a visual schedule for completion of the chores and hang it on the refrigerator so your child can monitor his or her progress. Consider breaking each chore down into a written or picture task list to increase independence. Awarding an allowance for a job well done will help your child begin to learn the value of work and the incentive of pay.

  • Summer is often the time for doctor’s appointments. Encourage your child to take as much responsibility in the process as possible. As appropriate, allow your child to make his or her own appointment. Help your child generate several questions that he or she can ask the doctor. Assist your child in answering as many of the doctor’s questions as possible by predicting some of the questions and helping your child rehearse his or her answers. 

  • Give your child the experience of making a plan. You can do this by allowing him or her to plan a meal or family activity. Support your child in developing a goal for what he or she wants to achieve with the plan. Provide them with support to identify the needed actions, timelines for completing each action and the communication required to inform everyone of the plan. After the meal or activity is over, help your child think about what went well and what could be done differently next time. 

  • Summer is a great time to let your child start exploring the world of work. It is important for children to learn about as many jobs as possible so they can begin to identify themselves as future workers. Exploring different types of jobs allows children to begin forming ideas of preferences and interests. This can be done by having your child ask friends and family if they can spend a short period of time observing them at work. You can also take your child into the community to identify jobs that can be easily observed. After observing a particular job, have your child generate a list of like and dislikes and which jobs he or she wants to explore further. 

These are just a few ways to promote self-determination and independence with your child this summer. Whatever your summer plans are, make sure your child has the opportunity to make choices, have a voice and participate fully in their own life. Enjoy!

Written by Casey Wisdom, SSD Director of Transition Services

Published May 2016

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arrow icon Click here for a list of self-advocacy and self-determination resources available from SSD's Family and Community Resource Center.


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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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