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The Rights of Passage . . . Teens Transition to the Future

Students with disabilities age 14 and older should receive transition planning as part of the Individualized Education Program (IEP). A good transition plan depends on the goals a student and his family set. Through this process the student (and his parents) receive an empowering opportunity to plan for the future. For that to happen, the student and his parents need good information about the process and the services.

This TECHNOTE defines transition, outlines key aspects of transition and gives you important resources you can use when navigating through this journey to adulthood.

What is transition?
Simply put, transition is a passage from one stage to another. We experience many transitions in our lives -- from one job to another, from a starter home to dream house, from single to married life, etc. In school, we move from one grade level to another -- early intervention to preschool, kindergarten to first grade, middle school to high school and high school to college or work or both. We spend much of our time planning for life's major transitions. Unfortunately, moving from school to adulthood is complicated for young people with disabilities. Because of that, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives schools and families the chance to focus on transition planning.

Defining transition through IDEA Federal law says that transition is moving from school to adult life activities including:

  • employment (integrated and supported),
  • additional education, (vocational training, continuing and adult education),
  • adult services,
  • independent living and community participation.

The federal law goes on to define transition services as:
. . .a coordinated set of activities for a student, designed within an outcome-oriented process, which promotes movement from school to these adult life or post-school activities. The outcome-oriented process should help students, families and professionals to think about the students' life after high school. This includes identifying long-range goals and designing school experiences in which students gain skills and develop community connections. (34CFR '300.29)

This 'road map' helps everyone involved decide, plan for and coordinate activities and supports that will help a student successfully fulfill his life choices.

The student's personal needs and dreams set the stage for the transition activities. The team, with the student, should focus on his preferences and interests. Members then build the training, supports and services the student needs to meet his goals. They can focus on his instruction, community experiences, employment, daily living skills and job needs/skills review. In-school programs (work-study), community-based instruction (banking, shopping, riding the bus), recreation, clubs and extracurricular activities all contribute to a successful transition to life's next steps.

Why is transition planning important? Too many students with disabilities dropout of school. They become unemployed or underemployed. They face waiting lists for adult community-based services and support. Community life, integrated social opportunities and recreation bypass them because of poverty and physical and psychological barriers. Prejudice, fear and stereotyping from the non-disabled members of their community are real barriers to independent living.

A good transition plan helps students, and their loved-ones, think about those issues and more. It lets them make, long-range goals and design experiences, build new skills and make community connections. If they can do all that, the student's chance for success after leaving high school is much higher.

When should transition planning start? At age 14, each student's IEP team should begin addressing transition. They should:

  • gather information about each agency that provides a service to the student before he leaves school.
  • describe the community and other connections he needs (adult services, communities, transportation systems, recreation and independent living opportunities).
  • outline ongoing support and services.

All this planning happens while the student is still in school so he can smoothly move to community programs without falling through the cracks.

Who must be on the IEP team when we discuss transition services?
Transition planning must be a part of the IEP process once a student reaches age 14. As with regular IEP meetings, team members include the student, if appropriate, his parents, teachers, a district representative and, when appropriate, people who work with him.

When the IEP meeting includes transition planning/services, the school district must invite the student and an agency representative from any program that is likely to provide or pay for transition services. Family members can also invite any community agencies they believe will enhance the transition plan. Of course, students always have the right to actively participate in the IEP meeting and/or transition planning.

The school district must show in the child's school record that they invited agencies to participate in developing the plan. They could invite:

  • The Department of Human Services Office of Rehabilitation Services (formerly ORS),
  • Developmental disabilities providers,
  • Job training providers,
  • Community colleges and universities,
  • Community parks and recreation programs,
  • Transportation authorities, and
  • Health and medical agencies.

The agencies can physically attend or use a conference call, telephone, or submit reports or letters to participate. If an agency is unwilling to participate or is unable to provide a necessary service, the school district should reconvene the IEP team to consider and initiate other strategies.

Why is it important for students to be involved in transition planning?
Transition planning and services are only valuable if they strengthen a student's active, post-high school participation in community life. The student's needs, interests and preferences determine what services he needs to meet his goals. In short, student-focused planning cannot happen without the student!

Studies show that students who are involved in making their educational goals are more successful achieving those goals. If that isn't a powerful enough reason to have them involved, legislative requirements (American with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998) also speak to student involvement. For example, the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 assert that a disability in no way diminishes the right to live independently, make choices about their lives, and experience full inclusion and integration in the economic, political, social/cultural and educational mainstream of American society.

Considering Educational Technology
It is important to consider educational technology in a transition plan. AT is often a key component to writing vocational goals and objectives. If a child uses AT to carry out his IEP, chances are high he will continue to need AT in post-secondary education, vocational programs or employment.

Consider these questions:

  • What type of goals is the child setting?
  • What specific equipment will he need to do that job, or learn that skill?
  • Does he need training to use the device(s)?
  • Does the equipment need modification?
  • Who besides the student and the primary care giver needs training on the device. (I.E.: personal assistant, teachers, job coaches, employment specialists, supervisor, secretary or other support staff)?
  • Who is going to pay for the technology?
  • Is the vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency responsible for the purchase?
  • Will the educational agency agree to sell the technology to the VR agency for a depreciated cost?

Why Aren't Students and Families Directing the Path to Their Future?
Unfortunately, families often come to the first Transition/IEP meeting without understanding their roles and responsibilities in the transition process. Nor do they know about the services available for their child. They do not know about service options and have not begun to think about future goals. They may feel intimidated and/or unable to participate in the planning and decision-making.

If parents do not get early, comprehensive information on transition planning, they cannot explore or consider their child's needs, preferences and interests. It is a scary and intimidating process for some parents, their children and even the professionals that work with them.

Usually students do not participate in their IEP planning until they are 14 and federal law triggers the transition requirements. Talking about life goals in a room full of the powerful people in your life is an intimidating experience for anyone, let alone a teenager. Still, who would want to have them hand us a plan for our adult life that we had no participation in designing.

Consider Jennifer, a 15-year-old high school student with cerebral palsy and her 17-year-old brother Tim. They have an interesting story. As Jennifer approached her 14th birthday, her mother prepared for their first IEP/Transition meeting. She also prepared Jennifer by explaining the meeting and what people might ask and say. She told her who would be there and why participating was important for Jennifer. They also talked about where she might want to go in the future such as more school, living at home or somewhere else, and what to do for fun.

When Jennifer entered the room and looked around the table, she panicked and began to cry. She stayed out in the hallway during the entire meeting, upset and refusing to talk to anyone. Naturally, her mother was very disappointed and embarrassed by Jennifer's extreme emotions.

Later when Tim and his mother talked, she told him everything that happened before and during the IEP meeting. She explained how frustrated she was trying to figure out how to get Jennifer involved in planning for her future.

Tim had an interesting response. He said, "Mom, how do you think I would react if you told me I had to sit in a room full of adults, some of them my teachers, and talk about my life?" Considering his perspective, she realized he would be intimidated and unwilling to do such a thing. He continued, "I would be angry, embarrassed AND afraid my friends would find out I had to do such an uncool thing."

Tim and Jennifer's mom now understood the teen perspective, but still believed the team needed a way to consider Jennifer's differences and preferences.

She understood that one IEP staffing, once a year would not get Jennifer involved and participating. Student and family involvement in planning for life after school must revolve around and consider the unique personalities of each student and the preferences and differences of each student and family--it must be person-centered.

What is Person-Centered Planning?
Person-centered planning is a process that helps the IEP team focus on opportunities for a student with a disability. Person-centered planning is ongoing problem-solving that brings people together to develop strategies and supports. Using a person-centered planning process helps everyone: w focus on the total person, w recognizes his individual desires and interests, w discovers new ways of thinking about the future, and w focuses on capacities instead of deficiencies.

Lifestyle Planning, Personal Futures Planning, McGill Action Planning System (MAPS), Outcome-Based Planning and Essential Lifestyle Planning are all person-centered planning approaches that IEP teams use. See the resource section for information about these planning tools. Though they have different names, they have several things in common. They promote consumer choice. They suggest new ways of communicating with people who have disabilities and their families, of assessing the student's desires, strengths and needs and of planning, delivering and evaluating services and supports.

For example, Personal Futures Planning, (outlined in "It's Never Too Early, It's Never Too Late" by Beth Mount and Kay Zwernik), offers a way to document a student's vision. It helps the team focus on developing personal relationship opportunities, positive community roles and increase control over decision-making. This process provides a way to problem-solve as issues arise and keeps key people in the student's life to create a circle of support. Person-centered planning also builds supportive roles and emphasizes participation among agencies.

An IEP/transition team may choose any person-centered planning process, but the approach should include at least three important steps: w a clear, shared-appreciation of the students strengths and talents, w a discussion about the student's dreams and future goals to ensure a common understanding of a specific, desired future, and w actions that will lead the student to that desired future.

Each agency should also list its commitments for action. These steps give the student, his family and school/service providers a way to get ready for the formal IEP/Transition meeting. This framework enables the team to focus on specific, planned goals.

Where can Families Learn More About Transition Services and Transition Planning?
Families have several resources in the state to help them learn more about transition and transition services. Listed below are several resources. Beyond that, get involved with other parents and families. They can be a valuable source of information and support by sharing ideas, goals and information about services and supports. Other ideas include: Find your local Transition Planning Committee (TPC). There is a TPC for every area of the state. Get involved with this committee. It is a great way to meet key players in your area. The Office of Rehabilitation Services, local school districts and adult service providers all participate in the committee.

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About Technotes

Technotes are periodic, one-time publications produced by the Illinois Assistive Technology Program designed to address the need for information on specific services, devices and/or polices that affect users of assistive technology. Most Technotes are no longer in print, but they are still available here on our website.

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