Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Health Sciences


Rehabilitation Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Lori Gonzalez

Second Advisor

Dr. Ruth Huebner


Self-determination is the ability to control one’s life and to actively participate in the decisions which affect the direction of one’s life. This ability is considered a critical life skill for individuals with developmental disabilities. The ability to make choices, plan, and self-evaluate are among the primary skills included in the development of self-determination. Currently, there is very limited emphasis on the importance of self-determination in the literature of communication disorders. This study was designed to determine if a teaching paradigm which incorporates key elements of self-determination is as or more effective and efficient in teaching syntax than a traditional, clinician-directed teaching paradigm for students with developmental disabilities. Two methods of syntax instruction were compared for 4 students with Down syndrome between the ages of 7 and 13 years using an Adapted Alternating Treatment (AAT) single subject design. In the Clinician Directed (CD) condition, the clinician selected the reinforcing activities, scheduled the order of those activities, and provided the students with feed-back on the accuracy of their productions. In the Self-Determined (SD) condition, the students chose the reinforcing activities from 4 possible choices, scheduled the order of activities, and self-evaluated the accuracy of their productions.

Results of the study indicated that both the traditional clinician-directed approach (CD)and the self-determined approach (SD) were effective in teaching syntax targets with all 4 students achieving criterion at an unexpectedly rapid rate and maintaining skills regardless of the teaching condition. The CD condition was slightly more efficient than the SD condition in achieving criterion for 3 of the 4 students in the study; however, for 2 of these 3 students, there was a difference of only 1 session between the 2 conditions. In the SD condition the students were required to self-evaluate responses, a key element in the development of self-determination skills. Interestingly, students appeared to learn to self-correct errors slightly sooner in the SD than the CD condition. Further investigation is needed, but a case might be made that including elements of self-determination in syntax training could justify the slight loss of efficiency, and does so without disrupting teaching effectiveness.



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