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Students, Parents and Educators

What is Supported Decision Making for students?
Supported decision-making (SDM) is the process of empowering individuals with disabilities to make decisions on their own as an alternative to guardianship or as a tool within guardianship when they reach turn 18 years old. Students who want to have a good understanding of their educational choices may need support from others to make informed, decisions about their future. A supported decision-making arrangement would be useful students who face complex decisions, students whose first language is not English and students with mild disabilities.

How can a student use a Supported Decision-Making Agreement?
Between the adult student and their chosen supporter(s) an agreement is signed that describes how the student wants the supporter(s) to assist with making education decisions. It may also grant access to educational documents. The agreement will describe the type of assistance that is wanted by the student; whether it is getting information, giving advice about options, or helping with communication to others. The agreement can be terminated at any time from either party based on a determined need.

What can educators do to support this process?
Educational professionals have a responsibility to prepare students to make the best decisions possible, and to help students understand that they have a stake in their educational careers. The following activities can be done to better prepare a student to make decisions about their future:

  • Ensure transition-age students have appropriate Self-Advocacy IEP goals, or have the demonstrated skills to advocate for themselves.
  • Engage students in problem solving activities that encourage them to think critically about their decisions.
  • Explain the Transfer of Rights and the Individual Education Program (IEP) process to the student. Make sure that the student understands that they aren’t required to transfer rights.
  • Educate the student and parents on the variety of options for decision-making support and legal supervision before the student is 18 years old.
  • Encourage students to take on key roles in their IEP meeting before they are 18 years old, to demonstrate an active awareness of their educational strengths and needs.
  • Counsel students on ways to make the best decisions and show them the costs and benefits to each of the options before them.

What is in place to train students to be aware of their needs?
The Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education has resources and trainings on its website (http://dhss.alaska.gov/gcdse/Pages/projects/SDMA/default.aspx). Many schools have curriculum available designed to teach students how to be aware of their needs and their disability as they transition to post-secondary opportunities. Usually, these include the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities aimed at developing their decision-making skills and preparing them to take an active role in their future. The members of the IEP team, including the student, should discuss what program or curriculum would be appropriate.

When should educators and parents start to discuss these issues with students?
Students should be involved in a supported decision making process as an alternative to guardianship or a tool within guardianship. However, students should be involved in transition discussions no later than 9th grade. Throughout their educational careers, students should be actively involved in the decision making process. If we begin to involve students at a young age, they are more aware of their support network and their ability to make decisions on their own or request support from someone they trust.

How should parents be involved?
Parents are required participants of their student’s IEP team before they turn 18 years old, and can be chosen supporter(s) in a Supported Decision-Making Agreement after the student becomes an adult. Educators should encourage students to discuss their decisions with their parents, as they feel comfortable. Students must make the decision that they feel best meets their needs in the educational setting, but they are able to seek their parent’s support and guidance in the SDM process.

Is the Supported Decision Making Agreements process the same as Guardianship?
No. With SDMAs, students choose to seek guidance from other adults that they trust to help them to think about and communicate to others about decisions in their lives. Guardians are appointed by the court to make decisions on behalf of the student. Under a court order for full guardianship, the student does not have legal authority to make decisions for themselves (with a few exceptions).

If you have any questions or want to start a Supported Decision-Making Agreement, contact the Disability Law Center, http://www.dlcak.org/html/contact.php


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