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Transition to Adulthood

July 6, 2022

Students with disabilities are eligible for special education until their 22nd birthday, unless they graduate first with a regular high school diploma and have mastered their transition goals and objectives.  Most students with disabilities are, therefore, entitled to transition services.  Transition services are “a coordinated set of activities” that focus on improving academic and functional achievement to facilitate the transition from school to post-school activities. There are four domains of transition services: academic, vocational, community participation, and activities of daily living.

Congress was clear that transition services are results oriented.  What that means is that a team of folks close to the child – to include parents, teachers, scout leaders, clergy, therapists – should sit down when transition process starts, before the child turns 14, and come up with an optimistic and challenging vision of where the student could be at age 22.  Working from that vision, the team then should assess what skills and abilities the student needs to develop to reach that vision.  Certainly, the student’s needs, strengths, interests, and preferences must be taken into account.  Once the needs are established, goals and objectives are added to the IEP to address those needs.  Otherwise stated, the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) includes a transition plan that outlines transition goals and the services needed so the student can live and work as independently and productively as possible at age 22.  

Frankly, transition planning and transition services are not areas of strength for many local school districts.  Too many IEPs are produced in which the only goals are for the student to fill out a vocational preference inventory and write a resume.  Too many vocational programs are little more than opportunities for students with disabilities to observe workers in fast food restaurants or in nursing homes.  This needs to change: the only way it will change is if parents hold school district administrators to the requirements of the law.  That means real transition planning before and right after the student’s 14th birthday.  That means that from that point on goals and objectives need to address the student’s need to be an independent and contributing member of society at age 22.  Vocational services need to involve real work with job coaches.  Community participation means the student needs to learn how to shop, manage a bank account, and use public transportation.  Academic means that a college-bound student with a disability may need a college preparation program.

Parents can expect push-back from districts.  They know that their child’s future is too important to permit bureaucratic resistance to stand in their way.