Self determination is the core of the human experience. Our lives, our all too fast trips around the sun are OURS to do with what we want.

Self determination is controlling your own destiny, calling the shots in your life. Having a say in the decisions that impact your existence.

Parents often have a hard time accepting this and moving from being an advocate FOR their children to being an advocate WITH their children as they come of age.

The balance between fostering independence and giving children the support they need is tilted even more when a child has a disability. Parents might not be sure of where the line is between independence and supporting decision-making – interdependence. Children on the verge of adulthood still need support, but also need confidence and skills to venture out of their comfort zone.

That’s what I’M DETERMINED is for. The I’m Determined project is funded by the Virginia Department of Education. It focuses on providing direct instruction, models, and opportunities to practice skills associated with self-determined behavior.

I’m Determined helps young people , especially those with disabilities, take some control over their lives. They learn to set and steer the course of their K-12 education and post high school life through their IEPs and beyond. The programs shows them how to find their voice.

A key activity of the I’m Determined project is its annual Youth and Parent Summit. More than 130 youth with disabilities aged 13-22 head to James Madison University in Harrisonburg for 2 1/2 days each June. Students and their parents experience living in the dorms. Youth leaders with disabilities facilitate activities that help their peers recognize their strengths and support needs. They discuss how to ask for the help they need to succeed.

Parents spend time learning how to give their children space and make sure their loved ones can advocate successfully for themselves. Their summit is organized and hosted by the Center for Family Involvement.

Alex Stickler and his son William (left) are both summit veterans. Alex says he is “looking forward to going back. I had a great time sharing experiences with my son. I also had a good time with other parents learning how I can help my son be more of a self-advocate.” William says he is “excited to learn new things that can help me in life and make new friends.”


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