Perkins School for the Blind Transition Center

Tools for Transitions: Using Self-Management and Technology to Build Independence

Shifts from adolescence to adulthood, from high school to college or career, and from family home to independent living can be challenging for anyone. Many young adults struggle to manage their time appropriately and to make good choices that will help them to meet their long-term goals. Once past initial learning experiences, however, these young adults often adopt successful self-management strategies that help them to stay on target. Self-management, including noticing, monitoring, and influencing one’s own behavior, can be as simple as setting an alarm clock to wake up on time for work, keeping a food journal to help in losing weight, or programming a smart phone reminder to make an important call. While most adults who negotiate their lives successfully are self-managing without even realizing it, some individuals have never learned these crucial skills and may find it difficult to move towards independence without them. Fortunately, a rich research literature suggests that individuals with disabilities can be taught to self-manage at many different levels, with success across academic settings (e.g., Coyle & Cole, 2004; Olympia, Sheridan, Jenson, & Andrews, 1994), work settings (e.g., Christian & Poling, 1997), in home and social situations (e.g., Ninness, Fuerst, Rutherford, & Glenn, 1991), and for health-related concerns (e.g., Rauen, Sawin, Bartelt, Waring, Orr, & O’Connor, 2013).

Self-management begins with identifying and monitoring one’s actions. This skill, called self-monitoring, is often enough to lead to positive behavior change by itself (e.g., Ackerman and Shapiro, 1984; McDougall, 1995; Amato Zech, Hoff, & Doepke, 2006; Morrison, McDougall, Black, & King-Sears, 2014). Young adults can begin to tap into the power of self-monitoring by setting personal goals and determining what behavior change will lead to meeting those goals. For example, an incoming college student may set a semester-long goal of getting an A in his first class. This goal can be broken down into the behavior that will make that grade more likely: attending all sessions of the class, turning in all work on time, and studying for a minimum number of hours per week. He can then self-monitor each of these responses on a daily basis, providing feedback to himself and guidance towards doing what he needs to do to meet his goal. In the absence of self-monitoring, he might be less likely to notice when he is missing classes or not studying enough. There’s also the very real sense of satisfaction that one can derive from noticing one’s accomplishments, which are highlighted through self-monitoring. Our hypothetical student will feel great when he earns his A at the end of the semester, but he can also enjoy the feeling of accomplishment each time he records his class attendance, timely work submission, and hours studied each week.

The effectiveness of self-monitoring can be augmented by adding self-prompting strategies. Mechling, Gast, and Seid (2009) provided three high school students with ASD with personal digital assistants (PDAs) programmed with prompts for cooking activities. Although the prompts were not generated by the students themselves, they were able to access them as needed. The students improved their independent cooking skills, and they only used the prompts as needed. Self-prompting can be seen in action in nearly any setting or everyday activity. From the simplest string around the finger or post-it note on a computer monitor, to the most high-tech smart phone alert system, people self-prompt all the time. Learning to make use of this very typical, effective strategy is crucial for success in independence for individuals with disabilities.

Finally, self-management may also involve the self-delivery of consequences. Although not always necessary for success, sometimes the addition of positive reinforcement for a job well done can improve behavior change towards the individual’s self-selected goals. Self-reinforcement need not be tangible; those of us who post accomplishments to social media and enjoy seeing the “likes” roll in can attest to the power of recruited social reinforcement. For some, periodic splurges that are related to behavior change can make it easier to make shorter-term sacrifices. Consider an individual who wants to improve healthy eating and exercise. A natural reinforcement plan that provides a meaningful consequence for behavior change might be to buy some new clothes when a certain weight level is reached. This provides motivation and incentive for the individual for those times when the healthy lifestyle is harder to maintain, as well as a well-deserved sense of accomplishment when the goal is reached.

The best thing about self-management is that it can be absolutely free, and completely independent of assistance from others. Self-monitoring, prompting, and reinforcement can be accomplished in whatever ways are most appealing and productive for the individual. Although high-tech solutions are in no way necessary for effective self-management, the ubiquity of technology can make self-management even easier and more appealing to anyone. Multitudes of apps are available on mobile technology to support self-monitoring, self-prompting, and self-reinforcement across a variety of life situations. Recent research provides support for the use of both specifically-designed and publicly-available technology for self-management for individuals with disabilities (e.g, Mechling & Savidge, 2011; Cihak, Fahrenkrog, Ayres, & Smith, 2010; Blood, 2011).

Self-management is associated with greater independence and maintenance of behavior change, because control of procedures is given to the individual rather than relying on others. All aspects of self-management are readily and freely available to those who know how to use them. The key is ensuring that individuals are ready to self-manage as they enter transitions to more independent life circumstances. As in any transition situation, it’s important to start to plan for necessary skills well in advance of the life change, and self-management is no different. Effective self-management strategies can be generalized and utilized throughout the lifespan, and effective self-management repertoire will serve anyone well in meeting and exceeding their personal goals.

To learn more about Transitions, an apprenticeship to assist young adults with Autism and other learning differences with success in college and careers, visit, e-mail or call  (518) 775-5384.


Ackerman, A. M. & Shapiro, E. S. (1984). Self-monitoring and work productivity with mentally retarded adults. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 17, 403-407.

Amato Zech, N. A., Hoff, K. E., & Doepke, K. J. (2006). Increasing on-task behavior in the classroom: Extension of self-monitoring strategies. Psychology in the Schools, 43(2), 211-221.

Blood, E. S. (2011). Using an iPod Touch to teach social and self-management skills to an elementary student with emotional/behavioral disorders. Education and Treatment of Children, 34(3), 299-321.

Cihak, D., Fahrenkrog, C., Ayres, K.M., & Smith, C. (2010). The use of video modeling via a video iPod and a system of least prompts to improve transitional behaviors for students with autism spectrum disorders in the general education classroom. Journal of Positive Behavior Intervention, 12(2), 103-115.

Christian, L. & Poling, A. (1997). Using self-management procedures to improve the productivity of adults with developmental disabilities in a competitive employment setting. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30, 169-172.

Coyle, C., & Cole, P. (2004). A videotaped self-modeling and self- monitoring treatment program to decrease off-task behavior in children with autism. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 29, 3-15.

McDougall, D. P. (1995). Using audio-cued self-monitoring for students with severe behavior disorders. Journal of Educational Research, 88(5), 309.

Mechling, L. C., Gast, D. L., & Seid, N. H. (2009). Using a personal digital assistant to increase independent task completion by students with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders, 39, 1420-1434.

Mechling, L.C. & Savidge, E.J. (2011). Using a personal digital assistant to increase completion of novel tasks and independent transitioning by students with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders, 41, 687-704.

Morrison, C., McDougall, D., Black, R. S., & King-Sears, M. (2014). Impact of tactile-cued self-monitoring on independent biology work for secondary students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of College Teaching & Learning (Online), 11(4), 181.

Ninness, H. A. C., Fuerst, J., Rutherford, R. D., & Glenn, S. S. (1991). Effects of self-management training and reinforcement on the transfer of improved conduct in the absence of supervision. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 499-508.

Olympia, D. E., Sheridan, S. M., Jenson, W. R., & Andrews, D. (1994). Using student-managed interventions to increase homework completion and accuracy. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27, 85-99.

Rauen, K.K., Sawin, K.J., Bartelt, T., Waring, W.P., & Orr, M., & O’Connor, C. (2013). Transitioning adolescents and young adults with a chronic health condition to adult healthcare – an exemplar program. Rehabilitation Nursing, 38(2), 63-72.

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