Understanding Transitions: Planning for Life After High School
Transition services provide an opportunity to prepare special needs students for life after high school by helping them explore career options, learn important social skills, and prepare for future educational and vocational programs. Parents and students should begin to think about transition in middle school so students get the most benefit from their remaining school years. Opportunities to explore include postsecondary education and training, employment programs, independent living programs, and community resources.
Transition services are required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Florida Department of Education recommends that parents of students with disabilities become familiar with resources and options early in the process.
In her book, Why Do You Need a Transition Portfolio? A Resource Guide for Parents and Caregivers of Students and Young Adults with Developmental Disabilities, Dr. Teri Doolittle recommends that parents and guardians think ahead to the future, when the student will be a young adult no longer surrounded by a school system required to meet their needs. “Transition is a process of the students becoming aware, exploring, experiencing, and choosing from the many options that are available for them after they leave high school,” Doolittle explains. “The information collected in this process should be available to the student to help them understand decisions about their future. This will help students learn to advocate for their own needs when they grow up.”
In the postsecondary world, students may work with many different programs and agencies, each with its own opportunities and requirements. The paperwork can be overwhelming, and sometimes there are wait lists for funding, so parents will need to identify alternatives before the student leaves school. Parents can help prepare for transition by keeping a portfolio of the student’s personal profile, education plan, assessments, career exploration, volunteer experiences, recreational activities, and special health care needs. This portfolio will become an important tool as the young adult establishes relationships with colleges, vocational programs, employers, adult services agencies, and adult health care providers.
Dr. Doolittle notes that a portfolio is more than a collection of documents. It is a collection of experiences, ideas, and recommendations that have been developed over the years by the people who know the student. A portfolio presents the student in a positive manner, highlights their strengths and abilities, and shows what they are capable of doing.
Parents should learn about the Transition Individualized Education Program and Summary of Performance, two essential portfolio documents which may be used to help the student succeed in future education and training programs. The Transition IEP is an individualized study plan that includes activities planned while the student is still in school that prepare them for life after high school, such as instruction, related services, community experiences, career exploration, and goals for postschool living. For some students, it will also include assessments of daily living skills and a functional vocational evaluation. Once a student turns 14 or joins the eighth grade, the IEP team must determine and document whether the student is pursuing a course of study leading to a standard or special diploma.
If something should happen to the parents or guardians, the portfolio will provide essential information for those who step in to help the student adjust to a new life situation, especially because it will include the young adult’s own choices and goals. It will help everyone understand a person’s dreams, goals, and abilities so they can keep moving forward into the future they choose.
In the last year of high school, the staff must work with the family to develop a Summary of Performance, a “discharge summary” showing the results of the educational interventions and assessments, along with recommendations for future providers who may work with the student in adult settings. The Summary of Performance shows the student’s present level of performance at the time they leave high school, the results of the assessments that were done, and the accommodations, modifications, and assistive technology that has been used to help assure student success. The Summary of Performance also describes the student’s own goals and plans for the future.
Public agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation, Social Security, or the Agency for Persons with Disabilities may use the information in a portfolio to help guide their services, but a portfolio isn’t just for government agencies. This information will help anyone who works with the student to build opportunities that allow them to be full participants in their community.