Transitions can be a difficult and stressful time for a child or young adult with a disability. This might be transitioning them to leave the house after a long period at home, a student changing schools, or maybe your loved one is transitioning out of high school and starting adult services. No matter the event, it is good to be prepared as much as possible for any upcoming transition. All students go through transitions in their educational careers, from moving up a grade to moving to a different school. Schools need to provide transition programming to improve school goals by supporting youth development and reducing stress. A comprehensive transition plan includes providing social and academic support for students in a new grade or school through counseling and mentoring, family outreach, and community engagement. Post-secondary and workplace readiness programming and training for educators and youth should also be provided to help further support students in periods of transition.
Transition from grade to grade can be difficult for students with disabilities, as they must learn new teachers, support staff and maybe new peers. One of the most significant grade changes is ninth grade transition. Freshmen frequently demonstrate a decline in academic achievement and attendance and students fail ninth grade at a higher rate than any other grade of high school. Assisting middle school students and their families with successfully negotiating their transition to high school through outreach, like academic support, mentoring, and post-secondary and workplace readiness programming, can make the difference.
Transitioning to a new school is also difficult for students with disabilities. Highly mobile students, such as homeless youth, migrant students, and youth in foster care, are often most at risk during these transition periods. Student mobility rates are significantly increasing in Colorado. When transitioning to a new school our child advocate, Veronica Crowell, recommends parents make a “Student check list”. Everything on the list should be what is important for a new team to know about the student. It can include recent IEP/504 goals, accommodations, skills and abilities the student possesses, preferences and dislikes, even what the student prefers to have as a soothing tool. Veronica also suggests setting up a transition meeting with the old and new school teams. This can be a great place to share the “Student checklist” but can also be a place for the old school to give tips and tricks to the new school.
For the student, prepare them, prepare them, prepare them the best you can. Talk to them often about the transition. Discuss the new school and its positive differences. Take them on a tour of the new school – if possible. See if the new school can arrange to let them meet some of their new teachers or peers.
When transitioning to adult services, Veronica gives the same advice as she does for changing schools. Prepare them by discussing the changes, make a “Transition list”, arrange a meeting with the school team and the Transition school or adult services team members (like case managers, a job coach and other support staff). Communicate any concerns with the new team. Transition programs for students in special education help prepare students with disabilities to gain access to the supports and services necessary to become as independent as possible. The transition planning process includes helping students successfully move from school to post-secondary education or employment through training, independent living skill development and employment training, based on a student’s abilities, needs and goals. Students receiving Special Education Services prior to the end of their senior year, who have an IEP (Individualized Education Program) can access (from the age of 18-21) services through the school district. (Including those who left but got their GEDs)
Many of our students with disabilities go onto college. The first thing you should do when considering higher education for your special needs student is to reach out to the college’s disability department and share the most current IEP with them. They will know if it will be a good fit or not. There are a few colleges/universities that specialize in supporting students with disabilities. A student at college would not have an IEP ,as those are provided during K-12th grades and also through the transition programs. However, colleges can offer accommodations that look like 504 plans .. Some colleges also have student mentor programs to help students with disabilities fit into the college environment. If you want more information on students with disabilities and post-secondary education, please visit Inclusive Higher Education.
It can be a scary time, but it can also be a celebration that your child is moving on into adulthood. Being prepared can really help alleviate the anxiety around transitions. We at The Arc Arapahoe & Douglas Counties have many resources that can help. Please checkout our Step Up! Into Life After High School!TM. We have an online video series that talks about transitioning into adulthood, along with a transition guide and resources on our website that can help. Another great resource is the Writes Law website.
Most importantly, we know it is overwhelming, but The Arc’s and schools are here to help, so please ask for support.
Written by Veronica Crowell and Luke Wheeland