top of page

Domain Five

Community-Referenced Curriculum and Programs

Self-determination is the concept of reflecting the belief that all individuals have the right to direct their own lives.  Pacer’s National Parent Center on Transition and Employment defines self determination as: believing you can control your own destiny. Self-determination is a combination of attitudes and abilities that lead people to set goals for themselves, and to take the initiative to reach these goals. It is about being in charge, but it is not necessarily the same thing as self-sufficiency or independence. It means making your own choices, learning to effectively solve problems, and taking control and responsibility for one's life. Practicing self-determination also means one experiences the consequences of making choices.  


There are four essential characteristics of self-determined behavior:

  • Autonomy

  • Self-regulation

  • Psychological empowerment

  • Self-realization (Shogren, Wehmeyer, Palmer, Rifenbark, Little, 2013)

In addition to these essential characteristics, there are several other characteristics of self-determined people, such as the following:

  • Awareness of, and ability to, make choices based on an individual's strengths, preferences, interests, and needs

  • Ability to consider a variety of options and anticipate consequences for their decisions

  • Ability to evaluate decisions based on the outcomes of previous decisions and revise future decisions

  • Ability to set goals and work towards them

  • Have problem solving skills

  • Strive for independence while recognizing interdependence with others

  • Persistence

  • Ability to assume responsibility

  • Self confidence

Would you agree, this is the type of person we would like to see our students become?


At the core of self-determination and self-advocacy is empowerment.  Empowerment is the understanding that an individual is truly empowered the moment he or she recognizes the inherent authority he or she possesses to control their own life.  Ultimately, empowerment means to make decisions that affect his or her destiny, to choose the paths that one wishes to traverse (Jones, 2006). Teaching self-determination, self-advocacy and empowerment will:

  • Promote choice making

  • Promote self advocacy

  • Encourage exploration of possibilities

  • Facilitate development of self-esteem

  • Promote reasonable risk taking

  • Encourage problem solving

  • Develop goal setting and planning

  • Help students with disabilities understand their disability and what it means

With all these benefits and more, why wouldn’t we want to teach self-determination and self-advocacy skills to our students with disabilities?


Soft skills are personal attributes like: people skills, work ethic, attitude, communication skills, emotional intelligence, time management, organizational skills, teamwork, leadership skills and social skills.  Teaching soft skills is often undervalued, and there is far less training provided for them. Employers today are seeking people with good soft skills. They can easily teach the hard skills of the job, but the soft skills are more challenging.  In addition to teaching soft skills, teaching money management is very important. Without strong money management skills it’s more challenging to live independently. We are fortunate that we have technology and apps like Mint where you can manage your money from wherever you are using your cell phone or tablet apps.


Personal safety awareness/training and travel training can help students with disabilities feel safe in their environment.  Understood has these tips:

When it comes to personal safety, kids with learning and attention issues may be more vulnerable than other kids. So how can you teach your child about “safe” and “unsafe” people? Start with these 9 tips.

  1. Say it early, often and very clearly “Never go with anyone unless you come and ask me.”

  2. Talk about uncomfortable feelings.

  3. Talk about “tricky people.”  The concept of strangers can be confusing to some kids.

  4. Be specific.  Explain to your child some of the uncomfortable things unsafe people may do.

  5. Role-play different scenarios.  Make sure your child knows it’s OK to say no to people he knows and doesn’t know.

  6. Make him the “boss” of his body.  Tell your child that no one is allowed to touch his body in a way that makes him uncomfortable.

  7. Give simple steps for scary situations.

  8. Discuss online stranger safety.

  9. Keep the safety conversations coming.  It needs to be part of regular, calm discussions.  Start them when kids are very young.

(Wright, n.d.)









Use or share instructional resources addressing independent living

Use or share instructional resources addressing community

Use or share instructional resources addressing healthy social relationships

Use or share instructional resources addressing self-advocacy and self-determination

Provide or facilitate instruction in self-advocacy and self-determination skills

Support students self-advocacy within the transition planning process

Collaborate with school and community programs to foster self-advocacy

Self-Advocacy and Self-Determination

One of the resources that I found while looking for a curriculum to teach self-advocacy and self-determination skills is The Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment, which is part of the Department of Education, at the University of Oklahoma. The Zarrow Center facilitates student-directed educational, employment and adult living outcomes for individuals with disabilities, fosters innovative self-determination oriented instruction and transition education practices, and prepares educational leaders.

Under the Transition Education tab there are different curricula.  For our 6th graders, I chose the Me! Lessons and for our 7th-8th graders, I chose the Whose Future Is It Anyways. I then took each of the lessons and developed a pacing guide for our teachers. Each lesson is completely planned for the teacher, making them easy to do. Our goal is to do a transition lesson two times a month using this curriculum.


For our 9th-12th graders, I chose a different curriculum.  Again, while researching different curricula, I found the Northern Lights Special Education Cooperative. On their website, under the Services Tab-Secondary Transition, you will find the Transition Related Employment Curriculum (TREC).

I did a pacing guide for the TREC curriculum for teachers that breaks down the lessons by week, month, and year.  Each lesson is completely planned, which makes it easy to do. For our high school students, our goal is to do a weekly transition lesson.  During the students' Senior year, they will work more independently for part of the time, using the Youthhood website.

Their motto is “Where childhood meets adulthood.”  This site is a place for students, friends, and other teens.  It’s a welcoming community for all youth and a place where all youth belong.  Here students can start or continue thinking about what they want to do with the rest of their life.  This site was built to help youth plan for their future. It also has lessons for teachers, and the teacher can create a group site, so they can see the progress each student is making.  I trained all of our Secondary Education Specialists on these different curricula and have several pilot classes to model how to use the different curricula.

Disability disclosure is another important part of self-advocacy and self-determination.  Once you reach the age of 18, it's up to you as an adult to disclose or not disclose your disability.  The 411 on Disability Disclosure is a workbook for youth with disabilities developed by TransCen, Inc. for the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth.  The ultimate goal of this workbook is for youth to make an informed choice about disclosing their disability.  There are seven units in the workbook which are: Self-determination, Disclosure , Advantages and Disadvantages of Disclosure, Rights and Responsibilities Under the Law, Accommodations, Postsecondary Disclosure, Disclosure on the Job, and Disclosure in Social and Community Settings.

Competencies: 5.1, 5.2, 5.4, 5.5

Independent Living-Developing Soft Skills

All young adults with or without disabilities have a desire to become self-sufficient and live in their own home someday.  The acquisition of independent living skills can significantly impact a student’s future and the quality of his or her life. Independent living skills need to be taught at home and in the classroom.  Parents play an important role in teaching their children skills that are needed to manage a household successfully. Teachers play an important role in teaching these skills also. Soft skills and money management are two essential skills that need to be taught.  Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attribute, social intelligence and emotional intelligence. Employers are looking for adults who have these skills. I included two curricula that I have been using to teach soft skills and money management skills.


In addition, I’ve included a link to the Center for Parent Information & Resources

This is a central hub of information and products created for the network of Parent Centers serving families of children with disabilities.  This site has a wealth of information. If you go to their Resource Library you can search Independent Living Connections and find information on Independent Living.  They also have their resources in Spanish.

Competencies: 5.1, 5,2

Personal Safety and Life Long Learning 

Our local Community College, Mount San Antonio College, through their School of Continuing Education, offers classes around our community called Lifelong Learning classes for Independent Living Skills, Mobility Training, Physical Health and Safety, Advocacy Skills, College to Career, and Technology Training.  In addition, they publish IMPACT Mountie Newsletter, which has numerous tips on Personal safety awareness and a list of websites for Personal Safety.  I've used these resources in my training's and pass them on to teachers, administrators, parents, and students.  I've also included a resource for travel training.

Competencies: 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.7

Planning for the Future

To support student self-advocacy in the transition planning process some of the activities that I like to do are:

  • IEP Scavenger Hunt

  • Student-Led IEP

  • Planning for the Future Workbook

  • Adolescent Autonomy Checklist

These activities help students to think about what their IEP means, develop an IEP, plan for the future and see what types of skills they will need to live independently.  We begin doing these activities during their 9th grade year.  When we start in 9th grade we are able to see the progress the student has made during their high school years.

Competencies: 5.7


Center for Parent information & Resources, Featured Resource. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Jones, M. (2006). Teaching Self-Determination. TEACHING Exceptional Children,39(1), 12-17. doi:10.1177/004005990603900102

Money, Credit Score & Investing. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success. (n.d.). Retrieved from,5067.1

Money Pals, Part One - The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from,5531.1

Money Pals, Part Two - The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from,5531.1

Northern Lights Special Education CooperativeQuality Education Through Cooperation and Partnership. (n.d.). Retrieved from

National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth. (2005). The 411 on Disability Disclosure Workbook, Washington, DC. Institute for Educational Leadership. Retrieved from:

National Parent Center on Transition and Employment. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Morningstar, M. E., (1995). Planning for the future. University of Kansas, Department of Special Education.

Self Determination - National Parent Center on Transition and Employment. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Shogren, K. A., Wehmeyer, M. L., Palmer, S. B., Rifenbark, G. G., & Little, T. D. (2013). Relationships Between Self-Determination and Postschool Outcomes for Youth With Disabilities. The Journal of Special Education,48(4), 256-267. doi:10.1177/0022466913489733

The Youthhood - Where teens prepare for life after high school. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Travel Training Resources – Easterseals Project Action. (n.d.). Retrieved from,5522.1

Wright, L. W. (n.d.). 9 Tips for Teaching Your Child About Personal Safety. Retrieved from

Youth in Transition Project, (1984-1987). Adolescent Autonomy Checklist. University of Washington Division of Adolescent Medicine.

Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment. (2018). Retrieved 18 August 20115, from

bottom of page