Bridge School Self-Determination Curriculum



For Preschoolers broad goals are to:

  • Make choices and begin to understand consequences
  • Self-initiate through independent mobility devices, accessible play and accessible communication
  • Begin to develop goal-directed behavior by making plans and following through with those plans

Lower Elementary

For Lower Elementary Students broad goals are to:

  • Recognize their unique abilities and match to strategies for decision-making and problem-solving
  • Begin to evaluate their own work to promote self-regulation
  • Recognize choices based on consequences and learn to formulate a revised approach

Upper Elementary

For Upper Elementary Students broad goals are to:

  • Learn to use a systematic approach to make choices/decisions by listing options with advantages and disadvantages of each choice
  • Analyze consequences of past decisions and results
  • Learn to set goals, monitor progress and revise steps toward goals

Middle School

For Middle School Students broad goals are to:

  • Generalize successful problem-solving from one situation to another
  • Break long-term goals into short-term objectives and determine steps to take to progress toward goals
  • Recognize and accept strengths and weaknesses, using weaknesses to find strengths
  • Assume greater control over their lives by providing an increasing level of informed consent
  • Use perspective-taking skills to negotiate and compromise on issues
  • Determine/advocate for support needed to reach goals

Core Areas

A Self-Determination model that we referenced by McNaughton, Wehmeyer, Rackensperger and Wright in the book, Transition Strategies for Adolescents & Young Adults Who Use AAC, and chapter “Self-Determination and Young Adults Who Use AAC”, 2010, defines Core Areas and Skill Areas as:


  • Self-Awareness — Understanding one’s strengths, needs, interests, values and how to use these to enhance one’s quality of life
  • Self-Evaluation — Identifying areas for change and deciding what’s important
  • Self-Regulation — Evaluating how changes in own behavior impact progress toward achieving goals


  • Choice-Making — Using information to consider options, to select the best options and to identify a course of action
  • Problem-Solving — Using course of action to develop a plan, and following through using organized approaches to solve problems


  • Self-Advocacy — Making one’s opinions known.
    • Determining need for support and enlisting others to obtain support
  • Meta-Representation — Conceptualizing and talking through problems internally.
    • Creating abstract representations of issues to assist in thinking about problem situations and possible solutions

Goal Setting and Attainment

  • Setting realistic goals
  • Identifying strategies to attain goals
  • Monitoring progress
  • Adjusting behavior to reach goals

These skills are acquired through interactions with others and a wide range of learning experiences and communication partners who can provide clear feedback.

Key Considerations

Careful planning is needed in order to meaningfully engage students in activities that promote the development of the skills in these core areas.

Structured interventions that:

  • Support students in goal-setting and attainment
  • Support students in learning to set realistic goals and
  • Support students in learning the steps to take to attain those goals in a systematic way are critical in preparing students for adult life

In addition, opportunities for the development of self-determination skills should occur regularly throughout the school day in responsive contexts, which are described by Turnbull et al., 1996, in “Self-Determination Across the Life Span,” as having the following key features:

  • Opportunities for enjoyable and reciprocal relationships
  • Non-judgmental interactions with informative feedback
  • A reasonable degree of successive challenges
  • Negotiation of reasonable and constructive limits
  • Open and honest communication
  • Facilitating but not controlling support
  • Affirmations of progress

We researched from a wide range of self-determination curricula for adolescents, then selected and adapted Steps to Self-Determination by Field and Hoffman, 2005, in order to provide this structured intervention. We implemented our self-determination program using three distinct learning experiences in order to provide these opportunities in responsive contexts:

  1. Guided Practice
  2. Mentorship
  3. Real World Opportunities

These three learning experiences provide the contexts in which students begin to work on the core skills of:

  • Self-Knowledge
  • Plan and Act (Making a Plan and Making it Happen)
  • Experience Outcomes/Learn and Adjust