How Do You Measure Success in the Quest for Independence?
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How Do You Measure Success in the Quest for Independence?

The following is a special needs program update from Mansfield Hall Blog. You may also click here to read the original article on the program’s website.

by Grant Leibersberger

People frequently ask me: How do you know you have achieved success with a student or young adult? When do you know they are ready to transition to the next step toward independence? Do you have a certain criteria that you look for? When will I know with my son or daughter?


Understandably, given my position and my desire to please people, I want to play the role of the expert and give the perfect equation. (“My definition of success with college students with learning differences is Structure + Insight + Acceptance + Tolerance = Ability to Self-Advocate and Be Independent. Once our students are capable of that – then they are ready!”). If it were ONLY that simple.

Success looks different for everyone

I am in the human services business. Simple measurements and absolute certainty are often inaccurate. Besides, who am I to tell someone what success in their life should look like? I should know better.

Success in college and what it takes to become independent looks quite different for everyone. The real challenge is helping our young people to define success for THEMSELVES so that they know it when they get there and it is truly THEIRS.

This is probably one of the most difficult things in working with young adults who are moving towards independence. It requires total restraint on your part. You want them to get there so much. You see it SO clearly. If the student could just (insert your idea here), they would be happy and fulfilled and that surely is the silver bullet. But, you know better. Those are YOUR goals. It’s complicated.

Celebrate the milestones

A mentor of mine told me that the process of achieving personal success is ACTUALLY figuring out what you do NOT want to be doing with your life. To a young adult, however, that can sound like a REALLY long time and a minefield for failure. Many of my students have been there before. There has to be a way to celebrate along the way so you do not have to wake up when you’re seventy years old and finally say, “I guess I made it!?”

Life and Career Planning helps students define success

At Mansfield Hall, we help our students define success for themselves the moment they sign on for the next semester. We are not in the business of telling students what their goals are. They define success themselves through a process we call Life and Career Planning (LCP). The LCP is a flexible and living process that allows us to revisit student goals frequently. Once we know what success looks like, we can help the student break down these benchmarks for success into attainable pieces and acknowledge all the steps along the way, comprehensively and student-driven.

Providing structure for the journey, it turns out, is helpful. So are increased insight and acceptance of one’s limitations while increasing tolerance for the ambiguity in life. This seems to produce the capability for students to advocate for themselves. All the outputs of the Life and Career Plan process.

Wait…what was that equation again?

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