By Joanna Keating-Velasco
January 16, 2015
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates a public education for all eligible children ages 3 through 21 (in most states), and holds the schools responsible for providing the services and supports to ensure this occurs. Through the Individualized Education Program (IEP), the IDEA requirements are facilitated.
Part of this ongoing process is to include a transition plan which must also support students in their teens as they approach graduation or “aging out” of their school system. Ideally, a family should initially start this process when their child is 14 or so, but definitely should begin exploration and information gathering by age 16.
Do not wait until the last year of schooling!
This is part one of a two-part article which covers the suggested steps toward transition into two categories: Exploratory and Self-Development. Of course each transition planning process will be unique based on the individual’s abilities, interests, aptitudes, social skills, life skills and what is available in your area, but the suggested steps are all vital once specifically refined for your child. This article focuses on Parental Exploration.
Basically, this is the ongoing process of collecting information to help your child (and you) learn more about his/her abilities, interests, challenges and needs as they relate to the demands of current and future working, educational, living, and personal and social environments.
During this assessment period, be sure to pay close attention to any challenges in functional life skills or extreme challenging behaviors. Some programs are restrictive in these areas; therefore, these challenges may limit your program options.
Your child’s continued improvement can open up more opportunities. Ongoing exploration can help improve opportunities for self-advocacy and self-determination as well. Assessment tool kits and resources can be found online or in bookstores. Families should begin this process in the early teens.
Program or College Opportunities and Visits
Research through school staff recommendations, parent referrals and online investigation what local programs, continuation schools or colleges are available and good potential fit for your child. Make appointments with program directors or college staff for visitations on your own as well as with your young adult.
Several years before your child “ages out” of the school system, begin a file of options and then begin visiting programs about a year prior to school exit.
Do not rely solely on recommendations from other parents (whether positive or negative). What’s great for one friend’s child may not be great for yours – and vice versa.
Conservatorship or Guardianship Legalities
Depending on your young adult’s cognitive level and abilities, you may need to seriously explore this avenue of legal process to help direct financial and medical affairs. This journey should be investigated no later than when your child turns 17 in order to obtain the necessary medical, psychological or psychiatric opinions and then prepare the court petition.
Once a child turns 18, theoretically, their medical professionals are no longer allowed to discuss their health decisions with you without proper authorization. Another less invasive alternative to consider is power of attorney. A special education or living trust is also something for parents to consider.
Seek resources from your Regional Center, district’s special education counsel or get a referral to a legal office with a specialty in this area. If you are utilizing legal advice, get solid trustworthy referrals to ensure you are working with people who are knowledgeable and will not take advantage of you financially.
Transition IEP Meeting
The Transition IEP Meeting should involve your young adult’s current teacher, administrator, your regional center contact, service providers, potential program agents, (possibly) an advocate and your young adult child. Many of the facets of your exploration process will “come together” at this meeting. Utilize this meeting and the resources in attendance to help you further navigate your child’s transition. Be ready with questions.
Contact Local “Transition” Agencies
Touch base with Regional Centers, adult program organizations (like Easter Seals), Social Security Administration, etc., to investigate transition possibilities such as day programs, vocational services, continuing education and residential living options. The timing of this contact may depend on your child’s age so keep key timing in a tickler file for future contact.
Navigating Through “Rough Waters”
If you have a child who exhibits aggressive behavior, major toileting issues or potentially dangerous elopement, make sure that the school and your family continue to address these challenges as a team early on. Much progress can be made if there is a team mentality to help your family maneuver through “rough waters.” Lack of forward progress in these three areas can severely limit your child’s future options when they “age out” of your public school system.
Issues that your school may have tolerated and cooperated with your family don’t necessarily have to be “accepted” or managed by privately-operated programs. This could severely limit your family’s possibilities, which can be discouraging. So please focus on these areas as soon as possible.
And finally, keeping a file or binder of all of the information discovered in your exploration can help you keep track of your progress. You will find that all of your “baby steps” in this area will soon add up to be “big leaps” of positive progression.
Also, you are not alone on this journey. Join a network (whether online or through your school district) of other parents who are also navigating these “strange new lands.” And finally, bon voyage in your adventures through Adult Transition!
About Joanna Keating-Velasco
Joanna Keating-Velasco has worked with students with various special needs ages 3 through 22 as a Paraprofessional for over fifteen years and is currently specializing in adult transition. She has authored two books, A Is for Autism, F Is for Friend, and In His Shoes – A Short Journey through Autism.