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Perceptions and Expectations of Youth With Disabilities  (NLTS2)
NCSER 2007-3006
September 2007

Chapter Three: Self-Evaluations of the Strengths and Competencies of Youth With Disabilities

This chapter focuses on the "self-evaluations" of youth with disabilities—reports by youth of "how good I am" with regard to particular competencies (Harter 1999, p. 3), an important addition to the self-descriptions of "who I am" and "how I feel" presented in chapter 2 in understanding the perspectives of youth with disabilities. An individual's sense of competence—a perception that he or she is capable or skilled in particular areas, such as athletics (i.e., "domain-specific" competence; Harter 1999) or in broader dimensions of their lives, such as decisionmaking—can be a protective factor against a variety of poor outcomes for adolescents, including depression (Smari, Petursdottir, and Porsteinsdottir 2001) and substance use (Lifrak et al. 1997; Miller 1988; Smith et al. 1995). Perceived competence also has been found to be a critical component of self-esteem (Branden 1995; Mruk 1995); a sense of competence and higher self-esteem is associated with better academic performance (Covington 1989; Martin et al. 2005) and with lower rates of early sexual activity among girls, criminal justice system involvement, health problems, and suicidal ideation (Crockenberg and Soby 1989; Erermis et al. 2004; Spencer et al., 2002; Trzesniewski et al. 2006). Further, poor self-esteem has been found to be amenable to intervention (Haney and Durlak 1998), underscoring the need for identifying students whose self-evaluations indicate a low sense of competence.

To document the self-representations of the competencies of youth with disabilities, youth were asked to report in telephone interviews how well they perform in six specific domains: athletics, computer use, mechanical tasks, creative arts, performing arts, and self-advocacy. In addition, two subscales from The Arc's Self-Determination Scale (Wehmeyer 2000) related to the broad concepts of personal autonomy and psychological empowerment were administered in in-person interviews with youth.