Conceptualizing Self-Determination from a Behavior Analytic Perspective (Standard)

Stephanie Peterson


A presentation by Dr. Stephanie Peterson delivered at the 2021 Michigan Autism Conference


We found that in most cases, people consider the goal of education to be developing a self-determined individual. Self-determination is an abstract term. Behavior analysts may find this term difficult to define. Therefore, it may be difficult to observe and measure whether “self-determined behaviors” have developed. Many other service providers use this term frequently; thus, behavior analysts working with these service providers must come to terms with this concept in order to better collaborate. We argue that self-determination can be operationally defined with the concepts of choice, self-control, and self-management. By using the measurable behaviors included in these concepts, we believe that services can be developed to teach self-determination skills. This presentation, based on a paper published in 2020, explores these concepts and how they can contribute to an operational definition of self-determination, and ultimately, help behavior analysts work with other providers to effectively teach self-determination to individuals with developmental disabilities.

About the Speaker

Dr. Stephanie Peterson is chair and professor for the Department of Psychology at Western Michigan University, as well as a member of the behavior analysis faculty. She earned her doctorate in Special Education at The University of Iowa in 1994. Her primary research interests are choice making, functional communication training, reinforcement-based interventions for children with problem behavior, and concurrent schedules of reinforcement in the treatment of severe problem behavior and in functional analysis of problem behavior. She also has interests in applications of behavior analysis to educational interventions and teacher training. She currently serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and is a Senior Editorial Consultant for Education and Treatment of Children.

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