Virginia Murray, online and adjunct faculty member for Grand Canyon University, spoke January 13, 2016 at Life Development Institute. During her session, Virginia addressed self-determination, self-awareness, self-advocacy, and provided an overview of important skills and strategies that assist adolescents and young adults as they work towards independence.  The significance of this topic takes root in the reality that people are not prepared for the transition from high school to adult living.  Even more so, persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD, and other learning disabilities can find this transition to be incredibly challenging.

To begin, transitioning to independence requires a paradigm shift. Prior to independence, persons are reliant upon others in daily living, in provision of necessities, and in education.  People “grow up” having someone else take care of their needs.  However, independence requires reflection and planning.  More so, independence requires self-determination.  Self-determination occurs when people act as the primary causal agent within their life.  Self-determination requires initiation, response, and ownership of control.  As such, one shifts from being taken care of to one who provides for herself or himself.   In fact, self-determination is the single most important action in success after high school graduation.  Employers find persons who have self-determination appealing, as these persons live independently, maintain a higher sense of happiness, and enjoy a better quality of life.

Virginia continued to explain that a primary step in self-determination is self-awareness, which is the process wherein one understands his or her own strengths, preferences, interests, and needs. Self-awareness requires consideration of the past, recognition of the present, and vision for the future.  Involved in this process is reflection upon previous interactions with teachers, parents, schools, work places, and social settings.  Additionally, one must realize opportunities and limitations that exist, such as transportation availability or needs.

Furthermore, self-awareness comes only from experience. Experience requires self-determination.  From self-awareness, one can begin to self-reflect and then self-advocate.  As such, self-awareness is in and of itself a necessary prerequisite for self-advocacy.  Self-advocacy also requires that one consider legislation that affects the individual, such as ADA and section 504 for persons with ASD, ADHD, and other learning disabilities.  Concurrently, self-advocacy requires effective written and oral communication as well as observation and interaction.  Therefore, persons must be conscious of the interaction with others and how others perceive displayed behavior.  Virginia encouraged attendees to realize that “thinking about you, thinking about me” is a great methodology for effective communication with others.

To conclude, Virginia offered an overview of important skills and strategies that exist. At the forefront, people need to embrace innovation and creativity.  The expression of this exists through hobbies and other creative outlets.  Next, persons need to identify motivation and be realistic in what they can do as well as in what accommodations they can seek.  People cannot expect to be hired unless they are able to do the job.  Further, it is necessary to practice self-regulation, self-management, and self-motivation.  All of these factors work together to enable the creation of goals, which must be specific, measurable, obtainable, and realistic.  From here, one should practice problem-solving skills, as these will refine over time and enable motivation to give way to solutions that are evaluated as successful.  Then, lives will be filled with the opportunity to make decisions and choices.  These decisions and choices should be embraced and based upon evaluations of various contingencies and their proposed results.  Finally, we can use these skills to develop a career plan based upon the following: strengths, abilities, interests, preferences, transferable skills, motivational factors, work ethic, career pathways, prerequisite skills, experience, education, job prospects, and personal life experiences.