Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin
Individuals with significant developmental disabilities are often considered by others to be dependent and incompetent. They are frequently defined by their deficits rather than their abilities. New concepts such as self-determination have challenged researchers and service providers to think differently about the abilities of individuals considered to have severe intellectual disabilities. Analysis of communicative events between individuals with and without severe disabilities provides evidence that individuals who are often considered least able to do indeed communicate, asserting control over their environments and activities. Careful attention to communication reveals that behaviors that on the surface appear to be random, maladaptive, or challenging are purposeful, even useful. The author proposes that embedded in each communicative act, there is a drive toward self-determination, but that in order for self-determination to be actualized, communication partners must learn to apprehend, and respond appropriately to, the messages.