Sunday, May 30, 2010


Self-determination is incredibly important for the success of children and adolescents with or without disabilities as they move into adult life. I like this defination, "the ability to identify and achieve goals based on a foundation of knowing and valuing oneself" (Field & Hoffman). I teach my graduate students the importance of self-determination but these last few months I have been thinking about the next step beyond self-determination: empowerment and advocacy skills. These skills can be used to change inequalities, stigma and misconceptions about disabilities but also can be extremely positive for the individual. I have watched this occur over the last four years with my daughter Linea. From my perspective, the first part of her journey was to accept and acknowlege her diagnosis of bipolar disorder with a few steps forward and some backwards as she learned to manage a chronic illness. She has written about this journey in her blog. Eventually and sometimes simultaneously, she began to know and value herself in this new reality. She moved toward identifying and achieving her goals which included a strong commitment toward social justice. The memories of the inequalities we witnessed in the mental health system strongly influenced her. It has been amazing to watch her find her voice and to use her power. As she joins a large and national movement to eliminate the stigma of mental illness and assure understanding, support and resources for others she has become confident and powerful yet has maintained her humility and kindness. (Check out her post as a writer on the BringChange2Mind blog.)

The National Empowerment Center actually conducted research on the definition of empowerment in the mental health world. It includes 15 qualities of empowerment. An example of just 5 of the 15 include: 1. decision making power, 2. access to information, 3. feeling part of a group, 4. changing others' perceptions of one's competency and capacity to act, and 5. change that is never ending and self-initiated. Linea demonstrates all 15 of the qualities defined in this research. I am not sure how she moved from the initial diagnosis to empowerment. It is certainly a developmental process and support, resources, opportunities and her own temperaments and brillliance likely figure into this. Although not everyone has these opportunities I do believe we should ensure that all of our young people (and others) have the opportunity to be not only self-determined but empowered within their own lives and in their communities. This occurs through small, individual changes with a big impact on the world at large!


Carrie Wilson Link said...

""the ability to identify and achieve goals based on a foundation of knowing and valuing oneself." I like that definition, too!

Accidental Expert said...

Thank you so much for bringing up this subject. I hope that some day my kids can truly except their diagnoses -- the bad and good. It makes them who they are, and that is wonderful.

Yours and Linea's story continues to give me such hope. Keep writing on.