Transition Planning

A distraught mother approached the high-school guidance counselor concerned about her son with special needs’ desire to become a doctor. Knowing the goal was beyond his achievement, the guidance counselor promised to talk with Bobby.

After having the child reiterate his desire to be doctor, the guidance counselor asked him what he liked about being a doctor.  Bobby stated that he liked to wear a white coat, he loved hospital food and he loved visiting the patients. The guidance counselor set up a training program with the local hospital to teach him how to deliver meals.  He received a full-time job upon graduating from high school and remains employed after many years.

This is the essence of transition planning.

A child transitioning from high school to adult life is the culminating event of Special Education.  Children with disabilities lag behind their peers in secondary school and are less likely to be employed.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 clarifies Congress’ intended outcome for each child with a disability: children must be provided a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that prepares them for further education, employment and independent living.  All transition education and instruction should begin by 16 years of age (earlier in some states.)    

The transition plan is part of the individualized education plan (IEP) required by the federal government for each student enrolled in a special education program in public schools.  It gives the opportunity for all stakeholders to come together to ensure progress in related areas.  These stakeholders are the parents, the teacher, the guidance counselor, related services and, of course, the child.  An invitation to the child to attend the IEP meeting is mandatory but they can decline to come. 

IDEA has three very clear goals that must be accomplished in designing the transition plan:

Is 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, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment); continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation; Is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and Includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.

Writing goals for a transition plan must be measurable to track the progress the child makes. An example of this would be (referring to the example above) successfully completing training, by a specific time, at the hospital; or the child learning how to take the bus from home to work, by a specific time. It must be results oriented to progress to independent living. These goals can be adjusted at subsequent IEP meetings to accommodate progress.

Bobby was sure about his interests but a little unrealistic about his strengths.  With some guidance he was able to become a happy, productive employee.  This demonstrates the need for the child’s input along with recommendations from other stakeholders. 

Related services include Vocational Rehabilitation, on-the-job training, anger management or anything that is required.  This resource is generally outside of the school’s authority and one of the community partners.  In Bobby’s example, it was a training program that the local hospital provided.

A successful transition plan requires all the stakeholders participating in the child’s future.   The transition plan transcends the academic responsibilities in propelling a well-adjusted child into adulthood.