How Does the Environment Stimulate Self-Determination?Self-determination occurs when people take control of their freedom. Theenvironment encourages self-determination by being responsive and informa-tional, or it discourages self-determination through controlling and unpredict-able responses to behaviors.
Older adults exposed to responsive environments maintain their sense of mastery by adjusting their standards for competence. When we inter-viewed older adults, we found that they continue to identify competence, autonomy, and relatedness as needs they hope to meet. They recognize achievement of these needs to be important outcomes of their leisure.
A responsive and informational environment reacts to a person’s initiatives, pro-vides information about the person’s competence, and encourages further action. It fosters intrinsic motivation and internal causality, resulting in self-determined behavior.
Events involving choice and positive feedback provide information to the person, thereby enhancing self-determination. By creating environments that are option-rich, responsive, and informative, we increase the likelihood of par-ticipants becoming self-determined.
How Is Self-Determination in Leisure Facilitated?
Self-determination involves a lifelong interplay between the individual andthe environment. A supportive, responsive context is important when encour-aging people to become self-determined. Optimal environments offer peo-ple opportunities to express and further develop self-determination. To pro-mote self-determination, we shift from services directed by professionals to services directed by participants. Research supports the connection between self-determination and participation in recreation activities.
Researchers found an increased amount of time spent by adolescents and young adults actively engaged in recreation predicted higher levels of self-determination (McGuire & McDonnell, 2008).Our challenge is to structure services to encourage self-determined leisure participation. Many strategies facilitate self-determination. An environment that fosters self-determination requires us to do the following:
• Provide opportunities for choice
• Promote communication
• Respond to preferences
• Foster active participation
• Encourage empowerment
• Increase competence
• Advocate goal setting
Provide Opportunities for Choice
Choice refers to the act of selecting one option, ideally a preferred one, from among others that are simultaneously available. The characteristic of choice is common to most discussions of self-determination; however, some families and professionals act in a paternalistic manner and make choices for people rather than allow participants to decide for themselves. As described, paternalism in-volves an approach to relationships in which the desire to help, advise, and even protect may result in neglecting individual choice and personal responsibility. Though the intention to care for others is responsible, disregarding people’s ability to take control of their lives is often disrespectful. Opportunities to ex-press interests and preferences have been prevented by people who incorrect-ly assume that participants such as older adults, people who do not speak the dominant community language, or those who have a disability are incapable of making informed choices.
When people are given choices, they engage in activities more, increase their interest, become more enthusiastic, increase their participation, and reduce challenging behaviors. We encourage participants to make choices within activi-ties when we present multiple and diverse options such as what materials to use, with whom to participate, and when to stop an activity.
We can facilitate opportunities for participants to make choices during the course of an activity by simply following the person’s lead and interests. To en-courage self-determination, we should support initiation of activities by pro-viding participants with opportunities to express preferences, allowing them to make choices regarding their leisure participation, and providing opportunities for them to experience outcomes based on their choices
Freedom of choice is vital to the pursuit of enjoyable, satisfying, and mean-ingful experience. Personal autonomy for people is an essential aspect of inde-pendent functioning and self-reliance. When we encourage people to choose activities, they are more enthusiastic about learning skills needed to participate, more readily apply those skills to other settings, and are more likely to continue to participate in those activities
The ultimate goal of any leisure program is to facilitate self-initiated, inde-pendent use of free time in meaningful, enjoyable, and acceptable recreation ac-tivities. When we provide opportunities for people to make self-determined and responsible choices that reflect their needs to grow, explore, and realize their potential, they are more likely to experience leisure.
Amy’s favorite activity is doing artwork. When she attends art class, she selects paper; she chooses between colors, sizes, and textures. She decides to use watercolors today rather than chalk or markers. After she has her materials, Amy positions her easel where she prefers and begins her cho-sen project while carefully selecting her color scheme.It is important to maintain a delicate balance between providing opportuni-ties for choice and encouraging socially acceptable leisure behaviors. Sometimes people choose to exhibit behaviors that society has identified as being offensive or detrimental. It is helpful to redirect these people to participate in socially ac-ceptable activities of their choosing that do not bring psychological or physical discomfort to themselves or others.
Helping people determine appropriateness of behaviors is useful. All people must learn that they are rarely completely free to do anything they wish. To ex-perience leisure on an ongoing basis, people must learn to assert their rights and to respect other people they encounter. The appropriateness of behaviors may vary according to the location such as the bedroom versus a public swimming pool, frequency such as asking once versus asking several times, timing such as laughing when someone is making a joke versus when someone is crying, and relationship of people present such as a brother versus a teacher.
Encouraging participants to make choices and take charge of their lives is an important aspect of leisure services. The earlier we present opportunities for choices to people, the more likely they will acquire self-determined behaviors. We can support participants to become more self-determined by inviting them to try new experiences, while continually offering opportunities for them to make choices.
Effective communication facilitates involvement with others. However, for a variety of reasons, some people take considerable time to formulate a commu-nication turn. At times, when responding to these individuals, we do not provide them with adequate time to respond. This unwillingness to wait for people to take their turn results in us taking control of the conversation and often the en-tire situation.
Because choosing to initiate involvement is critical to the leisure experience, it is helpful if we encourage people to initiate interactions and share conver-sations. Construction of a supportive environment responsive to the commu-nicative attempts is important. A supportive environment is created when we approach the person, attend to the person, and wait at least 10 seconds for that person to initiate interaction. This will encourage leisure involvement and, more important, demonstrate respect for that person.
Because a perception of freedom to choose to participate in meaningful, en-joyable, and satisfying experiences is fundamental to leisure, independent lei-sure participation is stifled when we rely on a directive approach to service de-livery. A directive approach to leisure services occurs when we maintain control and limit choice for participants.
A directive approach to hiking is to have hikers follow the leader and to remain on the blue-marked trail.
When we provide leisure services, it is helpful to take a nondirective ap-proach. A nondirective approach occurs when we encourage participants to pro-vide input freely, resulting in us strongly considering the individual’s prefer-ences and choices. Nondirective instructional strategies help us avoid instilling a sense of dependency within our participants.
A nondirective approach to hiking is to have hikers examine a map and plan a hike that includes taking various color-marked trails. Hikers work with the leader to estimate trip distance and length of time and assess plan feasibility. Once the plan is initiated, at occasional rest periods a dis-cussion is held to determine if the group wants to revise the e group wants to revise the plan
Because much daily communication is not verbally prompted, encourag-ing people to initiate communication is an important goal. As people engage in reciprocal exchanges stimulated by them initiating interactions, their abil-ity to communicate preferences, make meaningful choices, and experience lei-sure is enhanced. When communication is reciprocal, the interaction is mutual; the conversation is shared relatively equally between two people. Reciprocal communication happens when comments and thoughts of both parties are ex-pressed, listened to, and respected.
Simply providing people who have limited communication skills with an al-ternative form of communication is not sufficient. It is valuable to respond to their conversational attempts. We must be as responsive as possible to commu-nicative attempts made by all people.
If people do not initiate communication, they are still supported. Their initiations are supported when we complete actions such as providing them with objects they request, returning greetings to them, and extending and ex-panding their comments. When people do not initiate interactions, we can ask open-ended questions beginning with what and how as opposed to questions forcing them into a yes/no response.
Respond to Preferences
The most common way to determine someone’s preferences is to ask. How-ever, some individuals do not have verbal skills to communicate, and others feel pressured to identify certain preferences that correspond with expectations of privileged individuals. Consequently, it is helpful to observe people when they are presented with choices to determine if there is pattern in their selections. Preference refers to a desire for an option following a comparison of that op-tion against a continuum of other options. The distinction between choice and preference is subtle but important.
Arbitrarily providing an option that is preferred by someone removes the chance for that person to experience the joy of making the choice, such as taking Alonzo to his favorite playground without asking him to choose a playground. Conversely, helping someone to choose among options that are not preferred is problematic, such as offering Tonia the chance to choose between tap, ballet, and jazz dance classes even though Tonia does not enjoy dance and would prefer to choose among playing sports such as soccer, basketball, or field hockey.
When providing leisure services, it is valuable to determine a person’s pref-erences and create supporting opportunities for the person to choose among preferred options. Each day presents many opportunities to express preferences and make choices about leisure. These choices include not only what to do, but also where, when, and with whom to perform the activity. To respond to the needs of diverse participants, we can assess their preferences and develop strate-gies for determining preferred activities.
Foster Active Participation
People who have been oppressed are often excluded from recreation activi-ties, at times because of their assumed inability to participate independently. However, a person deemed unable to engage in an activity independently should not be denied a chance for partial participation.
Partial participation involves the use of adaptations and assistance to facili-tate leisure participation regardless of skill level. This approach affirms the right of people to participate in environments and activities without regard to degree of assistance required.
Through partial participation, individuals may experience the exhilaration and satisfaction associated with the challenge inherent in a particular recreation activity. The following is an example of partial participation:
Miguel and his friends entered a softball league. At the start of the season, a few rules were adjusted to facilitate Miguel’s league play because he uses a walker. Instead of the ball being pitched to him, he hit it off a tee. After he hit the ball, a teammate, Nicole, ran the bases. When Nicole touched home plate, the team congratulated Miguel and Nicole.
The principle of partial participation ensures that even those people who might never be able to acquire a large-enough complement of skills to completely par-ticipate in recreation activities independently could still learn enough to par-ticipate to some degree. However, challenges arise when we attempt to promote partial participation.
First, we might narrowly define participation as simply presence. When pas-sive participation such as keeping score on the sidelines is the dominant form of participation, this is problematic. It is helpful to encourage active participation by all participants regardless of skill level.
Second, sometimes we fail to consider the person’s preferences, his or her long-term learning needs, family priorities, reactions of peers, and other socially validated, community-referenced guidelines. It is important to solicit this infor-mation from participants and their families.
Third, we may interpret “doing things independently” as doing them alone, which results in too narrow a prescription for performance. The supportive presence of another person offers a way to enhance a person’s participation. This supportive person performs those parts of the activity that a participant deter-mines to be burdensome, overly time consuming, stressful, or exhausting.
Encourage Empowerment Empowerment
is the transfer of power and control over the values, deci-sions, choices, and directions of services from external entities such as service providers to consumers of services. This results in increased motivation to par-ticipate and enhances feelings of dignity. Unfortunately, we do not always allow people and their families the right to make decisions and therefore fail to em-power them.
People who experience communication barriers such as recent immi-grants who do not effectively know the dominant language or those with cognitive, physical, communicative, or sensory impairments encounter challenges in expressing preferences and being understood by others.
For many people who have been oppressed, opportunities for learning and practicing decision making and self-direction are limited. Reasons that these individuals experience such powerlessness and lack of self-direction have less to do with their lack of ability than with attitudes and practices of service providers, funding agencies, and social institutions.
Every person has the right to be empowered by communicating with others, expressing everyday preferences, and exercising some control over life. We need to give each individual the choice, education, technology, respect, and encour-agement to do so. It is valuable if we create empowering environments in which people and their families are given information to make choices and chances to exercise their choices.
Learning to make good choices requires experience with the process of decision making, which involves choosing among viable alternatives and deal-ing with consequences of decisions. When independent choice making is not feasible or safe, we can adapt or support choice making, and individuals can partially participate in decision-making processes. Development of autonomy, the importance of choice making, opportunities for self-initiation, and environ-mental manipulation all facilitate learning, enjoyment, and empowerment.
Making timely and correct decisions leads to a sense of personal effective-ness and interest that promotes investment of attention and enjoyment. People who do not possess the decision-making skills needed for activity involvement are more likely to acquire these skills if they participate in recreation activities and are given considerable autonomy to do so.
We should encourage participants to evaluate their decisions, determine the effects of their decisions, and decide whether they would act in a similar way in a similar circumstance. Teaching people to locate facilities, learn about participa-tion requirements, and obtain answers to questions stimulates decisions about leisure and empowers them. To empower participants to be self-determined, we should give them as many opportunities as possible to practice making manage-able decisions.
Perceived competence refers to people’s evaluation of their own ability to achieve tasks when compared to others of the same age and gender. Perceived competence is an important feature of leisure because it results in feelings of personal control.
Psychological comfort is perceived when people compare their perfor-mance to standards adopted internally and feel satisfied with their performance. This comfort is important because it allows the option that people use a crite-rion other than social comparison to judge their competence.
People who perceive they are competent in many available activities are ina better situation to experience leisure than those who do not. Participation in activities in which people perceive themselves as competent throughout their lives is important for us to consider when planning services
A leisure repertoire includes the breadth of activities that people do for en-joyment and fun. Expanding a person’s leisure repertoire tends to increase a sense of competence. Activities that people do frequently for their leisure they do well, and what they do well in their leisure they do often. Though expanding a person’s leisure repertoire is often valuable, it is helpful to consider some people prefer frequently engaging in a few meaningful and enjoyable recreation activi-ties. So rather than focusing solely on expanding people’s leisure repertoire, we can help people have meaningful choices to engage in preferred pursuits.
Advocate Goal Setting
Self-determination includes attitudes and abilities that lead people to define goals and to take the initiative to achieve those goals. Activities with clear goals are more likely to lead to participant enjoyment. In many activities, the goals are implicit, and therefore goal setting is not important.
For a person to complete a painting, the main concern is to develop skills that result in recognizing an aesthetically pleasing finished product.
One of our roles as service providers is to encourage participants to set goalswhen they are not apparent and work toward achieving them. Participants usu-ally problem solve when an environment fosters interdependence. It is impor-tant that these goals are challenging and individualized so that they are relevant to the person who works to achieve them. Different people may have different goals associated with the same activity.
Elena and Bassem chose to build a birdhouse. Elena’s primary goal is to challenge herself to make the birdhouse more quickly than the last time she made one. In contrast, Bassem’s primary goal is to make it as attrac-tive as possible.
There are many strategies to use when facilitating self determination as seenin Figure 12.4. Leisure contexts are ideal for implementing these strategies.
Self-determination is necessary for the optimal experience of enjoyment. Itmakes effort and investment of attention worthwhile for a person. This experi-ence of enjoyment serves in turn to develop competence, thereby reinforcing self-determination.All people need to have opportunities to take charge of their own lives. Theirexperiences are organized by principles that promote self-determination. If people are supported to make choices, participate in decisions, set goals, and experi-ence control in their lives, they become more self-determined. As people become more self-determined, they are more likely to assume greater control, make more c