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Arc’s Self-Determination Scale

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The Arc’s Self-Determination Scale measures four unique characteristics of self-determination: autonomy, self-regulation, psychological empowerment, and self-realization. This measure is designed to identify students’ strengths and limitations related to self-determination and determine what factors either contribute to or inhibit self-determination outcomes.

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Instrument Details

Acronym SDS

Area of Assessment

Activities of Daily Living
Life Participation
Quality of Life
Reasoning/Problem Solving
Social Support
Social Relationships

Assessment Type

Patient Reported Outcomes

Administration Mode

Paper & Pencil



Actual Cost


Key Descriptions

  • A self-report assessment with 72 questions with four sections that correspond to the domains measured: autonomy, self-regulation, psychological empowerment and self-realization
  • Questions include case-based open-ended questions and questions with Likert scale (0=I do not even if I have a chance; 3=I do every time I have a chance) and binary choices (agree/don’t agree)
  • Total self-determination score and four sub-domain scores yield standard scores ranging from 1 to 100.

Number of Items


Equipment Required

  • Paper assessment form
  • Writing utensil

Time to Administer

30-60 minutes

Required Training

No Training

Age Ranges


6 - 12



13 - 17



18 - 64


Instrument Reviewers

Natalie Bayer, Caitlin Burnite, Larissa Grieves, and Mackenzie Koehler

(Master of Occupational Therapy Students)

Faculty mentor: Danbi Lee, PhD, OTD, OTR/L

Division of Occupational Therapy, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle

ICF Domain


Measurement Domain

Activities of Daily Living


As the Arc’s Self-Determination scale is a self-reported measure, it is not appropriate to proxy this assessment with parents or others close to the individual (Peny-Dahlstrand et al., 2012).

Mixed Populations

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Normative Data

Mixed Disabilities: (Wehmeyer, 1995; n = 500; Mean Age = 17.08 (1.99) years; no disability n=50; learning disability n=160; emotional disorder n=15; intellectual disability n=128; orthopedic n=1; other impairment n=6; autism n=2; speech Impairment n=2 )

  • No Disability: mean score = 106.58 (SD = 15.67)
  • Learning Disability: mean score = 101.87 (SD = 16.04)
  • Intellectual Disability: mean score = 89.02 (SD = 21.92)

Internal Consistency

Mixed Disabilities: (Almqvist & Granlund, 2005; n = 472, Children Group Mean Age =10.04 (1.56); Youth Group Mean Age = 14.99 (1.51); Swedish sample)

  • Excellent: Cronbach's alpha range from 0.82- 0.93 for children and adolescents age 7-17 in autonomy indexes*
  • Poor: Cronbach’s alpha range from 0.57- 0.69 for children and adolescents age 7-17 in locus of control indexes.

Mixed Disabilities: (Wehmeyer, 1995)

  • Excellent: Cronbach's alpha is 0.90 for the entire scale and 0.90 for the autonomy domain*
  • Adequate: Cronbach’s alpha range is 0.73 for the psychological empowerment domain.
  • Poor: Cronbach’s alpha is 0.62 for the self-realization domain.


*Scores higher than .9 may indicate redundancy in the scale questions. 

Criterion Validity (Predictive/Concurrent)

Concurrent validity:

Mixed Disabilities: (Wehmeyer, 1995)

  • Adequate concurrent validity of the Self-Regulation domain using  Adult version of the Nowicki-Strickland Internal-External Scale (ANS-IE) (r = -0.32); Psychological Empowerment domain using ANS-IE,  Intellectual Achievement Responsibility Scale (IARQ), and Self-Efficacy for Social Interactions Scale (SES) (r = -0.35, 0.36, 0.47 respectively); and Self-Realization domain using SES (r = 0.37), and Total Self-Determination Scale using SES (r = 0.39).
  • Poor concurrent validity for Autonomy domain using the ANS-IE, IARQ, and SES (r== -0.16, 0.20 respectively); Self-Regulation domain using the IARQ and SES (r= 0.28, 0.29, respectively); Self-Realization domain using the ANS-IE and IARQ (r=-0.27, 0.27, respectively), and Total Self-Determination score using the ANS-IE and IARQ (r=-0.26, 029, respectively).

Construct Validity

Mixed Disabilities: (Wehmeyer, 1995)

  • Use of regression analysis showed expected differentiation due to differences in age - older students did better than younger students.
  • Use of regression analysis showed adequate differentiation between students with learning disabilities, students with intellectual disabilities, and students without disabilities.
  • Factor analysis identified 5 factors in the autonomy domain, 3 factors within the psychological empowerment domain, and 2 factors in the self-realization domain.

Content Validity

Most of the items in the item pool were drawn from validated measures including the Autonomous Functioning Checklist, Means End Problem-Solving process, and Short Index of Self-Actualization. (Wehmeyer, 1995)

Intellectual Disability

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Normative Data

Mild Intellectual Disability: (Lachapelle et al., 2005; n = 182 ; adults Canada, United States, France, and Belgium sample)


Mean (SD)


88.86 (19.57)


58.62 (15.14)

Psychological empowerment

11.52 (2.71)


8.00 (4.12)

Total score

10.76 (2.07)



Intellectual Disability: (Seo et al., 2013; n = 604; Mean Age=16.12(2.74))


Students with emotional and behavioral disorders

Students with learning disabilities:


Mean (SD)

Mean (SD)


58.49 (13.37)

63.40 (14.89)


11.47 (4.21)

10.82 (4.10)

Psychological empowerment

12.83 (3.18)

12.95 (3.01)


10.68 (3.20)

10.61 (3.26)

Total score

93.28 (18.14)

97.52 (18.86)

Internal Consistency

Autism Spectrum Disorder: (Chou et al., 2017; n=95, Female Mean Age=17.44 (2.72); Male Mean Age=16.60(1.97))

  • Excellent: Cronbach’s alpha subset ranges from 0.69 to 0.90 with an overall Cronbach’s alpha of 0.90.

Construct Validity

Convergent Validity:

Mild Intellectual Disability: (Lachapelle et al., 2005)

  • Adequate convergent validity of the ARC’s Self-Determination Scale at using the Quality of Life Questionnaire (r=0.49)


Discriminative Validity:

Autism Spectrum Disorder: (Chou et al., 2017) 

  • Adequate discriminant validity. Factor correlations of four factors of SDS (autonomy, self-regulation, psychological empowerment, and self-realization) were less than 0.85. Likelihood-ratio test between the ARC’s Self-Determination Scale and the American Institutes for Research Self-Determination Scale (AIR) was significant (p<0.01) suggesting that the two tests measure distinct domains of self-determination in students with ASD.

Mild Intellectual Disability: (Lachapelle et al., 2005)

  • Discriminant analysis showed that the ARC’s Self-Determination Scale distinguished the high quality of life group from the low quality of life group.


Factor Analysis:

Autism Spectrum Disorder: (Chou et al., 2017)

  • Confirmatory factor analysis of the ARC’s Self-Determination Scale supported the hypothesized structure for the Autonomy and Self-Regulation subscales, and generally for the Psychological Empowerment and Self-Realization subscales, with some problematic areas that warrants future research. 

Intellectual Disability: (Wehmeyer & Bolding, 1999)

  • Factor analysis identified 9 factors: 4 domains of autonomy, 3 domains of psychological empowerment, and 2 domains of self-realization (self-regulation was not included in the test) suggesting the domains.

Intellectual Disability: (Seo et al., 2013)

  • Confirmatory factor analysis showed that the four subdomains (i.e., autonomy, self-regulation, psychological empowerment, and self-realization) were invariant across students with emotional/behavioral disorders and students with learning disabilities.


Almqvist, L., & Granlund, M. (2005). Participation in school environment of children and youth with disabilities: A person-oriented approach. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 46(3), 305–314.

Chou, Y. C., Wehmeyer, M. L., Shogren, K. A., Palmer, S. B., & Lee, J. (2017). Autism and self-determination: Factor analysis of two measures of self-determination. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 32(3), 163-175.

Falkmer, M., Granlund, M., Nilholm, C., & Falkmer, T. (2012). From my perspective–Perceived participation in mainstream schools in students with autism spectrum conditions. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 15(3), 191-201.

Lachapelle, Y., Wehmeyer, M. L., Haelewyck, M. C., Courbois, Y., Keith, K. D., Schalock, R., & Walsh, P. N. (2005). The relationship between quality of life and self‐determination: An international study. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 49(10), 740-744.

Peny-Dahlstrand, M., Krumlinde-Sundholm, L., & Gosman-Hedström, G. (2012). Is autonomy related to the quality of performance of everyday activities in children with spina bifida? Disability & Rehabilitation, 34(6), 514–521.

Seo, H., Wehmeyer, M. L., Palmer, S. B., & Little, T. D. (2015). A two-group confirmatory factor analysis of The Arc’s Self-Determination Scale with students with emotional/behavioral disorders or learning disabilities. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 23(1), 17-27.

Wehmeyer, M. (1995, August). The Arc’s Self-Determination Scale: Procedural Guidelines. Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment: The University of Oklahoma.

Wehmeyer, M. L., & Bolding, N. (1999). Self-determination across living and working environments: A matched-samples study of adults with mental retardation. Mental Retardation, 37(5), 353-363.<0353:SALAWE>2.0.CO;2