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Monday, July 25, 2016

Engage Students in Transition Planning Meetings

July 12, 2016

NESCA's own Marilyn Weber was interviewed for this article.

A high school student sits silently in her transition planning meeting, surrounded by her parents, teachers, counselors, and transition coordinator. Everyone is discussing her future -- except her. They use terms she doesn't fully understand, like "postsecondary goals," "interest assessments," and "transition services." 

For a student with a disability, such an environment can be overwhelming. If you want students to actively participate in the transition process, begin by engaging them in their transition planning meetings, said Marilyn Weber, a transition specialist based in Massachusetts.

"How can we create a vision for a student if a student who is able to participate is not participating?" she said.

Follow these tips to create a student-focused transition planning meeting where students with disabilities can freely participate.

Address parents' concerns over student involvement. The IDEA states that a student with a disability must be invited to any IEP meeting that involves discussion of her postsecondary goals and transition services. 34 CFR 300.321 (b)(1).

However, parents may hesitate to allow their child to participate in a transition planning meeting, citing concerns that the meeting will be too lengthy or overwhelming. Weber has worked with some families who haven't shared their child's disability with the child. It's "a huge barrier for that individual moving forward," she said.

Remind parents that the transition process should be student-driven to incorporate their child's goals and desires, Weber said. Explain that modifications can be made to accommodate the student's abilities, such as having the student only attend part of the meeting.

Ultimately, unless a student is 18 and makes her own educational decisions, the student's parents have the right to refuse to allow their child to attend a transition planning meeting. In such cases, keep in mind that if the student doesn't attend the meeting, the IDEA requires districts to take other steps to ensure that the student's preferences and interests are considered. 34 CFR 300.321 (b)(2).

Key Point 1: Involve family members, caregivers to make students feel comfortable 

Invite family members, caregivers, and community agencies. Students may work with various adult support and employment agencies in the course of their transition process. Invite members of those agencies to meetings to help students understand the services they can receive, Weber said. Also let students invite close family members or caregivers who may help set them at ease during the meeting, she said.

Prepare students for the meeting. Before the meeting, explain to the student what a typical transition planning meeting looks like, Weber said. Let them know who will be there, how long it might take, and what they'll talk about.

Help the student understand that the transition plan is a document that affects her future and her schooling, said Dennis Clark, an educational consultant for the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network. Try to make the student feel comfortable about the process while emphasizing that it's important to be involved, he said. 

Key Point 2: Help students create presentation for meeting 

Weber recommends having the student create a slideshow presentation or brochure to share information about his disability and goals with the IEP team. Include his strengths, what kinds of challenges he faces, any accommodations he needs, and his vision for the future, she said. 

Involve students in the meeting discussion. While drafting the transition plan during the meeting, engage the student by asking questions about her vision, Weber said. Rather than using jargon like "postsecondary goals" or "interest assessments," consider using the following language:
  • Would you like to continue education after high school? 
  • Where would you like to live? 
  • Do you want to have a roommate? 
  • What kind of job would you like to be in? 
  • Do you want to work indoors or outdoors? 
Key Point 3: Accommodate students with severe disabilities

Accommodate students who are unable to understand or participate in the meeting. The transition process encompasses all disability categories of students, from students with learning or behavioral difficulties to students with severe intellectual needs, Clark said. As such, it's important to include students who may not have the ability to fully understand or participate in transition planning meetings.

Consider modifications to the meeting time or structure. Use visual aids for students who are nonverbal. It's also essential to have family members or caregivers present who can explain the student's interests or skills, Weber said. She cited one example where a student loved to play the piano but was unable to express this to the IEP team until his brother helped him include it in his presentation.

Allow for changes in the transition plan. Goals should be reviewed and renewed every school year to keep students engaged and committed to their transition plan, Weber said. Whenever a student tries something transition-related outside of the classroom -- such as a job shadowing, internship, or volunteer role -- have him share his experience with the IEP team, she said.

Marilyn Weber is a seasoned parent consultant and advocate specialized in transition issues, who works with adolescents and young adults. Ms. Weber joined NESCA in the fall of 2014 to offer community-based skills coaching services as well as short-term consultation to families and fellow professionals.

Ms. Weber brings decades of experience working in schools and community agencies as a job developer, job coach, work study coordinator, school-to-careers coordinator, transition coordinator, parent and professional trainer, and parent consultant.

Reprinted with Permission from: SpecialEdConnection®. Copyright © 2016 by LRP Publications, 360 Hiatt Drive, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418. All rights reserved. For more information on this or other products published by LRP Publications, please call 1-800-341-7874 or visit our website at www.specialedconnection.com.

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