Transition Planning: What does it mean, when do you start, and who is on your team.

For most children, planning their adult lives starts somewhere in preschool when they begin discussing what careers they hope to pursue in their adulthood. Then somewhere in high school, students seem less sure as they are faced with a decision to transition into the workplace, post-secondary education, or maybe even completely rock their parents world by electing to backpack through a foreign country looking for their missing inspiration.

Regardless, all students require some degree of transition planning and in turn all parents worry about their children, to varying degrees. However, this transition phase bears a heavier weight on parents of children with special needs. For individuals with special needs and their families, this transition planning brings on many additional questions and emotions. What is their best post-secondary option? What are their strengths and interests? Where can they live? How will they live? What kind of supports do they need to get there? Who will help them along the way? Who will help once parents are no longer here? While many neurotypical teens and parents might be wondering the same questions; answers are less likely to just figure themselves out for individuals with special needs.

Given the requirements of this unique planning, there are mandates as well as guidelines to help individuals, families and school districts plan for post-secondary outcomes. Transition planning is a process designed to prepare students with disabilities for post-secondary education, employment, and independent living. The process is meant to be a coordinated set of activities that will maximize student goals  and family goals upon graduation and/or age of 21.

To give you an overview, there is no linear sequence to transition planning, but rather an ongoing set of activities that generally begin with transition assessments that help identify a student’s needs, strengths, preferences and interests. If valid, these results lend themselves to Post School Outcome Goals in the areas of career/employment, post-secondary education/training ,and independent living. These outcome goals  are then broken down into measurable IEP goals and objectives that can be targeted through student success plans, courses of study, transition services, related services, and adult/community services. Annually, or sooner if necessary, these goals are reviewed, like other IEP goals and progress is assessed towards the Post School Outcome Goal Statements and in turn goals are developed and/or revised.

As you can already imagine, there is a lot to unpack in transition planning. While all of these factors may be overwhelming, it is important to note that families are not alone. It is likely that families already have a team of school based and privately based professionals. These professionals have long standing relationships with the child and their family. In my experiences, a child’s team members want nothing more than for them to succeed, in whatever way is meaningful for the individual. Transition planning takes a lot of work, thus it is absolutely necessary to lean on and recruit the help from all stakeholders. One successful tool in guiding the transition plan is a future planning meeting such as  MAPS (Making Action Plans) where all stakeholders in a student’s life are welcome. These meetings lend themselves to exploring very honest and open dreams and fears.

While there are many tools available, these conversations are starting later-on in the high school years. Although the law mandates transition plans be in place by the child’s 16th birthday, with some exceptions, many students require this process to start before that. In many cases one can argue that transition planning should begin as early as middle school.  Teams are committed to addressing a student’s needs, while aiming to ‘bridge the gap’ and meet grade level standards. Yet, students who require specialized instruction need opportunities to capitalize on their strengths, so they feel successful and motivated and feel that there is room for their dreams and aspirations. They need opportunities to develop their strengths so that their struggle is not the only focus. There are countless opportunities for individuals with special needs, and no disability nor level of functioning should limit one’s consideration. So, while goals and objectives may not be warranted for everyone, the conversations do need to start earlier.

Having these conversations with your teams opens-up the discussion of available services. Does your child require support in executive functioning skills to improve their ability to access higher education? Do they require assistive technology training? Do you have information on higher-education support services, as well as institutions geared towards individuals with disabilities? Will your child complete a course of study to earn a high school diploma, or will they pursue a certificate of completion? Does your child require a transition program after 12th grade? Is your local school district able to provide a comprehensive program for your child? Is your child eligible for state agency support such as DEMAS, DDS, BRS, or BSBE, to name a few? These discussions examine your child’s current curriculum and ways they are being prepared to access their education. It allows your team to develop ways to develop your child’s strengths and allows your child to begin differentiating between hobbies and career opportunities.  If there’s one thing I have found in diving into transition planning, is that there are many layers; but just as there are many layers, there are many resources to help your child achieve their post-secondary outcomes without feeling the rush and pressure in the latter high school years.

In working with individuals across the life span, I see that the role of team members, including related service providers, changes but remains equally relevant. As parents, you are your child’s biggest advocate but also carry the heaviest weight. Know you are not alone, and if connecting you with resources eases any part of this process, we are happy to help.

Please send your questions and concerns and check back for more detailed posts on specific areas of transition planning as we  will be addressing more specific areas around transition planning in subsequent blogs, in addition to partnering with Wiley Etter Doyon, LLC to host a transition planning presentation for parents of children with special needs children.

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