How to Teach Self-Determination Life Skills

As Americans rethink the ways we manage education, concepts like self-determination are making way for individualized instruction. Many teachers are beginning to ask themselves, “How can I teach self-determination to my students – especially students with disabilities?”

This question is crucial for all students, but for students with disabilities, navigating the world with critical self-determination life skills makes a whole world of difference. In fact, according to a University of Illinois article, students with disabilities in self-directed learning programs are more likely to achieve academic and non-academic goals! Find out how you can incorporate these concepts into your curriculum.

What Are Self-Determination Life Skills?

Student playing with puzzle pieces in colorful classroom settingSelf-determination skills are developed through a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs. Those pieces of self-determination help people engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous activity. Learning how to act in a self-directed manner empowers every student who gains these skills.

There are many components of self-determination that facilitate self-directed goals for students. Teachers might use curriculum that focuses on decision making, problem-solving, goal setting, self-awareness, and self-advocacy, among others. We can all imagine that dedicating time to skills like these benefit personal development, but how can teachers implement these concepts into their classrooms?

Approaches to Teaching Self-Determination Life Skills

While soft skills are difficult to measure, teachers should be able to fit these skills into existing curriculum with just a little extra effort. Some ideas to include this type of life skill involve:

    • Invest time in facilitating student-driven IEPs and transition planning, and check in with students to make sure they are prepared for meetings. All students are capable of being involved in planning their life.
    • Teach skills and enhancing knowledge of skills like problem-solving and decision making directly, creating lesson plans around these types of skills.
    • Embed instruction into general curriculum. For example, in any lesson plan, a teacher can begin by asking students to create a goal. In the next step, students will take action toward their goal. By the end of the lesson, students can reflect and revise their goal, learning about self-awareness.
    • Dedicate time to person-centered planning, an approach to plan and develop supports to help a student or any person achieve their goals.

Teaching Self-Determination Through Adulthood

These tips are great for teachers who can shape the future for students with disabilities, but what about adults who have already transitioned out of school programs?

Our My Full Life™ online application includes planning, skills inventory, and life skills curriculum designed to support individuals with disabilities living independently in the community. For educators and agency professionals interested in learning more, please visit this page and contact us for a demo.

California Dreamin’ with Cynthia & Chrissy

As temperatures dropped last month, two members of our staff escaped to California to work with our partners at Club 21 Learning and Resource Center, VTC Enterprises, and New Horizons. Community Life Coordinator Cynthia visited to conduct life skills software training through our My Full Life tool. A couple of weeks later, Chrissy visited to present at their Tools For the Journey conference.

Life Skills Software Training

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills.For the past twelve years, Cynthia Witherspoon has been working with the Full Life Model, developing tools and resources. She is an expert in our online application for life skills development, My Full Life, and shares these resources with our partners across the country. She visited Club 21 and VTC Enterprises to help them work with our My Full Life Skills Inventory over the course of six days.

During her time in California, Cynthia met with several young adults with disabilities who will be using our Skills Inventory. On one day, Cynthia joined a young woman named Lily at a coffee shop. She then observed her grocery shopping and cooking delicious tacos.

Throughout her trip, Cynthia says, “Parents of individuals completing a Skills Inventory had ‘ah ha’ moments.” The parents plan to encourage their children in pursuing more opportunities to practice independent living skills. Next, we will continue supporting the brand new Skills Inventory Consultants Cynthia helped train, completing written reports for the families.

Presenting Tools For the Journey

My Full Life Director Chrissy Dale also escaped to California during Chicagoland’s intense cold. Chrissy presented at the Tools For the Journey conference, hosted by Club 21. Using our Skills Inventory as a Road Map to Independence, Chrissy demonstrated how families can support the growth and development of their child.

Club 21 Executive Director Nancy Litteken strives to provide role models of adults living full lives with disabilities. By showing families examples of what is truly possible, those families can begin to dream bigger. According to Chrissy, community member Danny was “the perfect example of how families can dream bigger for their child.”

After the conference, Chrissy shared, “What excites me the most is Club 21 students transitioning into adulthood while working with our most recent agency collaboration, New Horizons, aligning our missions by taking a person-centered approach.”

Moving Forward and Igniting Dreams

Want to learn more about what Cynthia and Chrissy were up to? Check out more information about My Full Life to learn about the Skills Inventory! You can also connect with Chrissy online or schedule time to talk about how My Full Life can help you.

How to Teach Self-Advocacy Skills to Students with Disabilities

Young student working hard. Learning self-advocacy means developing a set of skills that are based on self-knowledge, communicating your understanding, and knowing your rights. When educators teach self-advocacy skills to students with disabilities, that knowledge opens doors to success that might otherwise never have appeared.

Unfortunately, students with disabilities historically have not been included in learning intangible skills such as the development of leadership abilities. To develop a skill set of self-advocacy tools, dive into cognitive functions like goal setting, intrapersonal functions such as building confidence, and interpersonal functions like collaborating on teams. Teachers seeking to support all their students, including those with disabilities, can read more from the National Council on Learning Disabilities to understand how to implement self-advocacy skill curriculum to your classes.

Develop Self-Awareness Through Skills Assessment

Educators can teach self-advocacy skills to students in a variety of ways. This image shows an individual in a wheelchair with two others on a grassy lawn.Begin by understanding the students’ strengths and weaknesses. Teachers can conduct a skills assessment, and then they should try to focus on the strengths. Starting with strengths helps students refrain from internalizing low expectations. With a solid understanding of their talents, students will leave class with greater self-awareness.

Making Skill Development A Priority

The next step sounds simple: make teaching self-advocacy skills a critical priority. But this step is like the foundation of a house. It will require a deep dive into lesson plans, adding opportunities for students to express their needs and desires. Without baking these ideas into the classroom’s curriculum, students most likely will not succeed in advocating for themselves.

Flexible Classrooms Teach Self-Advocacy Skills

A teacher in front of their classroom, photographed from the students' perspective.Teachers who want to support students in upholding their rights should try to create learning activities that engage all of their students on this topic. Some schools are beginning to move toward Universal Design for Learning, or UDL. UDL allows teachers to accommodate individual learning preferences, while also guiding the development of flexible classrooms.

Finding Real Opportunities to Learn

Finally, schools that support this skill development should consider ways to make learning this skill tangible. Because self-advocacy is not easily measured, learning experiences that are collaborative and engaging will help gauge students’ capacities. Schools could begin making connections with local businesses to see what opportunities students could have in the community. Through learning collaborations in the community, students gain real-world experience, and most will transition out of school ready to succeed.

How We Can Help Educators & Agencies

Teaching current students how to advocate for themselves is obviously crucial to their post-school success. But what about adults with disabilities who weren’t taught self-advocacy skills in school? My Full Life™ can help. An online learning management system, My Full Life consists of three parts: a skills assessment, planning process, and skills curriculum.

Agencies that serve adults with disabilities can request a free demo of My Full Life today! This offer is also available to educators teaching transition skills to students with disabilities. Reach out today to learn more!

New In-Home Technologies for Independent Living

Many barriers to independent living exist for people with disabilities, but new in-home technologies can help most families remove some obstacles. While these technology options won’t replace the development of all life skills, they can support  individuals to live more independent lives and offer their families peace of mind. At our housing conference in October, we invited a panel of tech innovators to present their remote support solutions. Read more to learn about these tools.

Night Owl Support Systems

Based in Madison, Wisconsin, Night Owl Support Systems specializes in home monitoring technology. They tailor equipment to each person’s need, so they are able to offer individualized support. Night Owl’s services consist of live remote monitoring. By providing care remotely, Night Owl offers clients independence, safety, and security.

With the use of person pagers, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, temperature and moisture sensors, and movement sensors, remote monitor staff interacts when assistance is needed. This option serves as an alternative to paid overnight care. Prior to beginning services, Night Owl’s staff works with clients to develop support plans. To learn more about Night Owl Support Systems, visit their website today

Rest Assured

Since 2006, Rest Assured has been providing cost-effective care to individuals with disabilities. Rest Assured provides remote support for people with disabilities, whether living independently or with their families.

The support Rest Assured provides can be tailored to the needs of each individual. With varying levels of support, clients can choose from active support and check-ins or emergency watch as needed. Various supports are available, including two-way audio/visual communication, smoke and temperature detectors, electronic sensors, and more. To get in touch with Rest Assured, visit their website

Simply Home

Committed to innovation, Simply Home’s founders dreamed of creating a way for seniors and individuals with disabilities to live at home. With more choice and control, Simply Home’s clients are able to develop their independent living skills.

Beginning with a person-centered assessment, Simply Home then designs a custom system. After activating the new system, individuals with disabilities can often live independently, relying on real-time alerts and insights alongside ongoing customer service. Click here to watch a full demo. Find out if Simply Home is right for you by contacting them.

New In-Home Technologies Make a Difference

Do you or someone you know need assistance living independently? Find out if one of these new in-home technologies is the right choice. Reach out to these passionate, innovative companies to discover what remote supports could mean for you and your loved ones.

In-Home Support Tech Contacts

Night Owl Support Systems, LLC: Duane Tempel

Rest Assured: Dustin Wright

Simply Home: Cameron Kempson

Top 10 Hope-Filled Moments in 2018

2018 was a big year at Center for Independent Futures! From fun and glamorous events like SPARK to meeting new people at conferences around the country, this last year held a lot to be celebrated. Join us in remembering our top 10 moments of 2018!

#1: New Partnerships in CaliforniaLogo for Club 21 in red with blue and green people illustrations to the left.

Club 21, a California non-profit, asked us to present at their Tools For the Journey conference. It was exciting to get out of the chilly Midwest for a few days to share our tools & resources with the Club 21 community.

#2: Hosting Activities in Highland Park

We conducted a meet and greet session with Highland Park community members in March. Since then, we have started including the village in our activities calendar through monthly Gab and Grub dinners. It is exciting to meet members of new communities, and we can’t wait to continue!

#3: A Beautiful Evening at SPARK

5 friends dressed beautifully pose for group photo at SPARK.

In April, our annual gala event was a shining evening! Join us again this year on April 26th at the Hilton Orrington! We will have more live entertainment, the annual Awesome Awards, delicious food, and wonderful auction items for all.

#4: Dream Team Biked the Drive

A group of Bike Club members participated in Bike the Drive again this year! They raised almost $7,000 through their fundraising efforts and had a good time biking in the cloudy weather. We can’t wait for next May to ride Lake Shore Drive again!

#5: Presented at National Down Syndrome Conference

Chrissy & Cynthia at the National Down Syndrome ConferenceChrissy & Cynthia went down to Dallas, Texas, in July to present at the National Down Syndrome Conference. They rocked the presentation and made new connections! We appreciated having this opportunity to present to industry experts and families alike.

#6: Held 2 Summer Camp Options for Transition House Students

Our schools team hosted the annual Life Skills Camp in mid-July, in addition to a new summer camp opportunity. Thanks to the Evanston Community Foundation, we were able to provide a Transportation Camp for Evanston Township High School transition students.

#7: Guided Biggest Marathon Team Through Finish Line

On a rainy Sunday, 18 members of Team CIF completed one of the greatest challenges: completing 26.2 miles throughout the neighborhoods of Chicago. Thanks to our community and team, we raised over $16,000 through the Bank of America Chicago Marathon!

#8: Created Community Connections at Housing Conference

At our housing conference in October, we shared our New Futures Initiative and housing resources with over 100 people dedicated to change. We are thankful for each of our presenters, including our panelists, endnote speaker, and keynote speaker, Micaela Connery of The Kelsey. Watch for video of the day coming soon!

#9: Delicious Food & Good Times at Something’s Cooking

We ate to our hearts’ content at the Woman’s Club of Evanston in early November. Thank you to the 25 wonderful food, dessert, and beverage sponsors for supporting our annual fall favorite! We hope to see you all next year!

#10: Turned Hopes Into Reality on #GivingTuesday

Thanks to all of you, we surpassed our $20,000 #GivingTuesday goal! We also met the requirements to receive the full $10,000 match from the Coleman Foundation. That means we raised a total of over $34,000 with your help!

We are deeply grateful for our caring, generous community after such a big year! 2019 looks like it will be even bigger, so we hope that you will continue on this journey with Center for Independent Futures. If you would like to be part of our story, sign up for our monthly newsletter today and make a year-end gift to support inclusive communities in Evanston!

5 Wonderful Reasons To Give For Independent Futures

As the holiday season approaches, we are reflecting on a year of growth at Center for Independent Futures. Looking back on the year, we want to thank each of you for your support and suggest five reasons to add us to your year-end giving. We have come up with five reasons for you to give for independent futures. Thanks to community members like you, the lives of more individuals with disabilities have been enriched and the reach of our community has expanded.

#1: We Combat Isolation & Exclusion

Individuals with disabilities face social isolation at a much higher rate than others. Through our Change Champions project, we partner with public and private organizations like public libraries and YMCAs to create cultures of inclusion. Over the last year, this program has introduced several community institutions to the strengths that individuals with disabilities bring to the table.

#2: We Bring Innovation into Classrooms through My Full Life™ 

woman leaning over to help student at a computerWe dream of a future where all individuals can share their gifts with the community of their choice. My Full Life™ is our innovative online solution to help teachers identify how students can reach their goals. With your continued commitment, educators access our innovative online curriculum to train life skills and identify the strengths individuals can bring into their communities.

#3: Our New Futures Initiative™ Brings Hope to Hundreds

Challenges concerning housing and independent living support persist for individuals with disabilities everywhere. Our family-guided New Futures Initiative™ housing approach gives hope to groups across the country. From California to Canada, you help us make a difference in hundreds of lives.

#4: We Strive to Fill the Gap

In the state of Illinois, opportunities for people with disabilities continue to be underfunded year after year. The need for community-based solutions is greater than ever. With your help, we hope to help fill the gap that is created by diminishing state funding. Our robust activities and events calendar provides support for individuals with a variety of interests, including our whole community.

#5: We Are Committed to Person-Centered Solutions

Since our founding in 2002, Center for Independent Futures has been focused on the individual. We have always started at square one by asking each participant, “What are your hopes & dreams?” Thanks to supporters like you, we continue to be leaders in person-centered approaches today.

Adam poses with friends he has made through Center for Independent Futures

We have a lot to look forward to in 2019, including welcoming more family groups to New Futures Initiative training and sharing My Full Life™ with more schools and agencies throughout the country. We are dedicated to helping families live with greater peace of mind and sharing our resources with community leaders. With such a big year coming up, we know we will need your help. Can you give for independent futures today? Please consider making a year-end contribution to Center for Independent Futures today.

#GivingTuesday and #ILGive a Success!

At Center for Independent Futures, we feel honored to be part of such a generous community, especially after #GivingTuesday and #ILGive! Because of each of you spreading the word and donating, we were able to surpass our donation goals!

#GivingTuesday and #ILGive

Giving Tuesday image of woman laughing in purple striped shirtOn Tuesday, November 27th, countries around the world celebrated #GivingTuesday. In Illinois, we also participate in #ILGive, an initiative from Forefront that hopes to show Illinois is one of the most generous states in America. This year was a big year for their #ILGive project: registered Illinois nonprofits raised $1,720,107 in just 24 hours from 6,902 donors!

While #GivingTuesday was a very big day for nonprofits across the world, it was also a huge success for Center for Independent Futures. Our community helped us raise $24,038 from just under 100 contributors! We not only surpassed our $20,000 goal – we also raised about $8,000 more than we have in previous years.

The funds raised through #GivingTuesday contribute to the services and activities we are able to provide to our participants, like heARTwords, where members are encouraged to express themselves through writing prompts. Activities and services like heARTwords provide a sense of community to this community that too often feels lonely and excluded. Your support truly makes a difference and helps us continue providing a sense of belonging to our participants.

Matching Grant for #GivingTuesday

Man smiling in a baseball cap with bracelets on with #GivingTuesday and #ILGive imageryAs if raising more than $24,000 in one day wasn’t exciting enough, we were also offered a matching grant opportunity. For every donation of $175 or more, we received an additional $175 thanks to the Coleman Foundation. As a result, Center for Independent Futures will receive an additional $10,000!

With your help, we raised a total of $34,038 on November 27th! That makes this year our most successful #GivingTuesday yet, and it is all thanks to you, our wonderful community. We cannot thank you enough for your generosity during this giving season.

There Is Still Time To Give!

Did you forget to give on #GivingTuesday and #ILGive? That’s okay! There is still time to give this year. If you want to make a year-end gift to Center for Independent Futures, please contact Niki Moe Horrell or call our office at (847) 328-2044.

Jonathan’s Jolly Old Trip to England & Ireland, Part Two

Jonathan Shuman is a young man who loves to travel the world. He sees the world in a positive, friendly way, and he wants to share his experiences with all of you. This is part two of three in Jonathan’s new travel series – catch up on part one here!

a busy Temple Bar in Dublin, IrelandThe day after we hiked to Glendalough, we took a stroll of the Temple Bar district in Dublin, Ireland. We also took a tour of the Wall of Fame where famous Irish musicians held their place in the Irish music industry such as U2, Thin Lizzy, Enya, Sinead O’Connor, The Corrs, and Celtic Woman. We also ate dinner in an Irish restaurant and we listened to traditional Irish music. One of my favorite Irish foods that I ate in Ireland was the traditional Irish breakfast which consisted of an egg, blood sausages, 2 pork sausage links, mushrooms, ham, bacon, and roasted tomato. Another favorite food that I tried in Ireland was the fish and chips, which is beer battered cod fish with chips – or as the Americans call them, French fries.

The next day, we flew from Dublin, Ireland, to London, England, via Aer Lingus airlines. When we arrived at London Heathrow Airport, we took a shuttle bus to the Holiday Inn Express hotel located in Stratford, London, England. The first thing we did in London was we went to Westminster Abbey. It was closed to the public unfortunately.Jonathan and his friend, Ross, outside of Windsor Castle

The next day, we took a shuttle bus and we traveled to Stonehenge in England. Stonehenge is a collection of Neolithic stones that the Druids constructed. The Druids were a Celtic tribe that practiced an earlier form of Christianity. We also learned what life was like during the construction of Stonehenge. For example, people had to live in huts. They didn’t have the technology to move the stones, so they moved the stones by their hands. After Stonehenge, we went to Windsor Castle where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle spent their honeymoon.

Westminster Abbey when it was closed to the public.

The next day, we went to Buckingham Palace and we saw the changing of the guards. We didn’t actually see Queen Elizabeth II – maybe because she was busy doing something else. After the changing of the guards, we took a tour of the interiors of Buckingham Palace. We also went back to Westminster Abbey, and we saw the interiors of Westminster Abbey this time.

Watch for the third installment of Jonathan’s travel series to learn about the Tower of London and discover his recommendations for England and Ireland!

Join Chicago Marathon Team – 5 FAQ

A Team CIF runner smiling on the Chicago Marathon course 2018On October 13, 2019, thousands of dedicated runners will line up at Grant Park, ready to take on the Chicago Marathon course. Out of the thousands of runners, there are hundreds of generous marathon participants who sign up for guaranteed entry by choosing to support a charity team.

We have put together a frequently asked questions blog about our Chicago Marathon team. If you’ve ever thought about running a marathon — or know someone else who has — take a look! Even if this opportunity isn’t for you, please help us spread the word! Forward this blog to your friends, family, and coworkers to let them know about this chance to be part of a Chicago tradition.

What is the Chicago Marathon?

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is an opportunity for runners around the world to achieve a remarkable feat: running 26.2 miles through many of Chicago’s unique neighborhoods. Runners sign up in late October and November, and then they train hard to complete the course in under 6.5 hours.

Can My Family and Friends Watch Me Run?

Of course! There is room for spectators along the whole course, but Mile 15 is really where the party’s at. At Mile 15, there is the Charity Block Party, where cheerleaders from charity partners like Center for Independent Futures will be waiting to cheer on our team — and all the other runners, of course! Your friends and family are always welcome to join us at the block party!

What Are the Team Requirements?

At Center for Independent Futures, we only ask that our Team CIF runners meet the minimum fundraising amount required by the Bank of America Chicago Marathon organizers. That means each runner will be asked to raise $1,250 to support the hopes and dreams of individuals with disabilities.

What Team Supports Do You Offer?

When you join Team CIF, you are becoming part of a community. We will help you every step of the way from working on individualized fundraising ideas to helping you remember important steps. Plus, you will have the chance to join the Chicago Area Runners Association at a discounted rate because you are running with us.

How Do I Sign Up?!

It’s easy! Just email team coordinator Connor Larsen and let her know you want to join the team! She will walk you through the two-step registration process and make sure you are registered to the team. Then Connor will help you get set up with fundraising tools and training tips throughout the following year to make your Chicago Marathon course successful. Don’t wait to claim your spot – there are only 15 left!

Success Stories

wed28oct1:00 pm2:00 pmSocial Hour

wed28oct4:00 pm5:00 pmYoga

wed28oct5:00 pm6:00 pmBook Club

wed28oct6:30 pm8:00 pmArt Club

thu29oct5:45 pm6:45 pmBike Club

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