All children deserve the benefits of a high-quality education, regardless of their personal challenges or needs. Legislators have written this right into federal law by passing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees every student with special needs has the right to a public education adapted to meet those needs.
IDEA covers more than just an academic education, however. There is also a provision for “transition services,” which lays a foundation for students with special needs to successfully move into post-high school life. According to federal law, transition services are a “coordinated set of activities designed to be within a results-oriented process that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities.”
Once children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) turn 16, it’s time to start thinking about life after high school:
- Educational and career goals,
- Post-secondary academic opportunities,
- Vocational programs
- Community living,
- Accessing helpful resources
- Developing interpersonal skills, financial literacy and an understanding of healthy lifestyles, and more
As with every other consideration in an IEP, these transition goals should be identified based on a student’s individual strengths and weaknesses, along with the skills they’ve acquired during their lifetime. But perhaps most importantly, the student’s own preferences need to be placed at the core of any planning.
One of transition planning’s main goals is to help young adults understand themselves, their disabilities and the choices that will come to determine their futures. In fact, federal law requires teens attend their own IEP meetings beginning at age 16. If an IEP team thinks it’s appropriate, transition services can be folded into an IEP earlier than 16. Some states have even passed laws that entitle younger children to transition services. No matter when the planning begins, students must be invited to IEP meetings in which transition planning will be discussed.
Helping Students with Transition Planning
For many children, school is a place where they can begin developing skills for a healthy, happy life. Before graduation, however, teens (especially many of those with special needs) enter a period teeming with challenges and major life changes.
In a 2009 study, researchers at the University of North Carolina identified a number of factors that can help students transition successfully to their lives after high school. Here are six:
- Career awareness: Learning about different types of employment, applying for jobs, and exploring individual interests and skills to identify possible lines of work.
- Community experiences: Developing real-world employment skills through on-the- job training and age-appropriate integration with peers without special needs.
- Inclusion in general education: Learning alongside peers without special needs in a general education classroom has been linked to improvements in academic achievement, employment, and independent living.
- Self-advocacy: Teaching young adults to consider themselves the primary causal agents in their own lives, and helping them make their own choices free from undue external influences.
- Social skills: Helping young adults understand and honor social standards for interaction and how these standards can change in different contexts.
- Parental involvement: Young adults whose parents take an active role in the educational process have been found to benefit far beyond the classroom
For more information about what an IEP can do for your child, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website here.
About John Bair
John Bair is an experienced settlement planner and financial consultant. He helps families develop strategies to provide lifelong financial support for children with disabilities, catastrophic injuries, special needs, and congenital abnormalities. Read more about John’s work and his firm, Milestone Consulting, at http://milestoneseventh.com/.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).