Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is Supported Decision-Making?

Supported Decision-Making (SDM) is a tool that allows people with disabilities to retain their decision-making capacity by choosing supports to help them make choices. 

Q: What does Supported Decision-Making actually look like?

Supported Decision-Making will look different for everyone. It means finding supports to help a person with a disability understand, make, and communicate their own choices. When using Supported Decision-Making, the person can execute a Supported Decision-Making agreement which identifies their method of decision-making. This document can help doctors, bankers, lawyers, and other third parties to understand and accept the decision of the person with a disability.

Q: How is Supported Decision-Making different from a durable power of attorney?

A durable power of attorney identifies the person who will be the substitute decision-maker if a person becomes incapacitated. A Supported Decision-Making Agreement identifies the people and tools that will support the person in making her own decisions and it goes into effect as soon as it is signed.

Q: How is Supported Decision-Making different from discussions we have at home with my child with a disability?

Many families are already having conversations and using Supported Decision-Making in their everyday life. Helping a person learn decision-making skills by making their own choices with help and guidance is Supported Decision-Making. Most supportive parents are already engaged in Supported Decision-Making with their child.

Q: So, if I’m already doing this, what does it matter what we call it?

Often parents are triggered to change this relationship when their child reaches the age of majority (18). However, if this relationship is working for both of you, documenting your supportive relationship in a Supported Decision-Making agreement can ensure that you remain in a supportive role as your child considers their major life decisions such as education, services, and benefits they may be eligible for.

Q: How is Supported Decision-Making different from full guardianship?

Who makes the decision?

  • Guardianship: The guardian makes all decisions about the person’s life.
  • Supported Decision-Making: The person uses supports to accommodate any limitations they have in decision-making and makes the final choice about their own life.

What is the role of the court?

  • Guardianship: The guardianship and all changes to the guardianship have to through the court. If there is a problem with the guardianship, or if the guardian dies, the court must approve any changes or appointment of new guardians. The court can replace a guardian with someone else if they think it best.
  • Supported Decision-Making: The person can change the supports they use anytime they want without judicial intervention and easily add supporters to get the insight of many people.

What are the protections against abuse?

  • Guardianship: Typically, only one guardian makes all the decisions and the court generally does not monitor the guardianship in any way after the order is established.
  • Supported Decision-Making: There will usually be multiple supporters. They may provide support in different areas (i.e., a parents may help with money, while a friend may help with social decisions); or they may work together to provide support (i.e., two supporters help the person make medical decisions.) Having more than one supporter provides a check against abuse or manipulation. Research shows that individuals who practice decision-making are less likely to be abused due to their comfort level speaking up for themselves.

How are the person's needs assessed?

  • Guardianship: The guardian exclusively determines what the person’s needs are and how to address them without oversight and often without any input from the person.
  • Supported Decision-Making: The strengths and needs of the person are discussed by the person and their supporters to ensure the person remains involved in all decisions concerning their life and that the identified supports match the person’s abilities as they progress across the course of their life.

Q: What are some examples of tools used in Supported Decision-Making?

Examples of tools might be:

  • Plain language materials or information in visual or audio form
  • Extra time to discuss choices
  • Creating lists of pros and cons
  • Role-playing activities to help the person understand choices
  • Bringing a supporter into important appointments to take notes and help the person remember and discuss their options
  • Bill payment tools such as auto-payments or bill management notification apps