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Back To School Goals: Autonomy and Self-Determination

A blog by Michele Matthews

Autism advocate, aunt, teacher


We are going into our fourth week back to school after a six month shutdown. None of us really knew what to expect as students came back to the classroom. I am so very proud of my students. They have been able to adapt, be flexible and learn a whole new set of daily objectives.


As a Special Education teacher, one of my main goals is to promote autonomy and self-determination in my students. This was not always the case. When I was a new teacher starting out, I believed that I knew what was best for my students and their choices came second to that. Along with experience, education (and age!) have come new perspectives in teaching students with autism and other special needs and THEIR choices make up a big part of our day.


Autonomy looks different in everyone and in my classroom it takes many shapes and forms. From Daniel using real scissors, not adapted ones anymore, to Jake looking at a visual and following through with a direction on his own, to Abyaz knowing he needs an activity that will be calming for him, to Jayden saying “I don’t want to walk!!”, my students are increasing their autonomy and self-determination. They are becoming more independent throughout the day and it is our responsibility as educators and parents to encourage and reinforce that whenever we see it.



Various internet sources estimate that adults make 35,000 choices/decisions in a day. Wow. How many opportunities for this do we give our students? Something to think about. During the shutdown, many parents shared that it was so difficult to have their special needs child home all day, every day. Teaching, encouraging and supporting autonomy in every aspect of a child’s life can hopefully lead to adults who are able to be contributing members of their homes and communities. My students smile and are happy when they can make choices for themselves. That’s self-determination. I am sure they are proud when they accomplish things. None of them can completely tell me, but I see it on their faces. I hope they can see it on mine.


A blog by Michele Matthews

Autism advocate, aunt, teacher


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