Supported Decision-Making (SDM) is when “People work with friends, family members and others they trust to help them understand the situations they face so they can make their own decisions” (Supporteddecionmaking.org). SDM is a very important part of my life both professionally and personally.
Let me introduce myself: I am Jason Harris, an Autistic person with a Master’s degree in Disability Studies. I am a Project Coordinator for the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, where we advocate for people with disabilities to get the services and supports they need to be independent and self-determined. Every day, at home and at work, I use SDM to help me make decisions and direct my life.
I use SDM Not because I am a Person with a Disability, but because I Am A Person. Like every other person, I cannot make all of life’s decisions without support from others. There is simply no way that I – or anyone else - can always have the information I need to make all decisions completely on my own. I also realize that, at times, my own perspective biases me from seeing other points of view. Therefore, I use SDM by working with other people to help me think through issues, understand my situations and options, and make informed decisions.
However, I think SDM means more to me than other people, especially those without disabilities. A big part of why SDM resonates with me, like it does with other people with disabilities, is because my own experiences and abilities have been discounted by others. All my life, people have focused on my supposed weaknesses, instead of my strengths and interests. For me, and many others with disabilities, making my own decisions has been a “luxury” because other people assume I am not capable and that it would be easier if they just told me what to do or made decisions for me. Because of this, there have been times where I lost the feeling of being in control of my own life and stopped practicing decision-making. This was especially true between middle school and the beginning of college when I often let others make decisions for me and influence the decisions I did make. This had a negative effect on my confidence and had me practicing “learned helplessness,” because I felt like everyone else was right - that I could not make my own decisions or manage my life without someone to doing it for me.
SDM is not a program or service, it is an ideology and a means to support one another. I think that, in many ways, SDM is how we grew as humans to form society by working together to solve problems and overcome challenges. Today, we all use SDM when we talk to our family, friends, co-workers, doctors, financial advisors, and countless others who support us when we make big and small decisions.
[Photo: Jason Harris, young man with short dark hair and glasses, wearing a blue plaid shirt and holding a microphone]
Founder of Jason’s Connection – an online resource for those with disabilities, mental health, aging and other needs. Jason was awarded an M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Education and Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies from Syracuse University. Jason is also a Project Coordinator and Research Associate at the Burton Blatt Institute, an international think tank for Disability Rights and Human Justice at Syracuse University. He regularly contributes to the blog in his own series called Jason’s View and travels the country consulting and speaking about disability issues and rights. To read more from Jason Harris, read Jason's View.