Students can face difficulty deciding their next steps in life as they transition out of high school. However, for students with disabilities, that adjustment begins as early as elementary school and requires an in-depth analysis of personal interests, capabilities, and parental support to set each student up for success.

As disabilities are manifested differently for each individual, it is important for parents and the school IEP team to have an active role in understanding the student and identifying their strengths and weaknesses in both an academic and real-world setting. From an early age, parents can begin to identify the child’s level of independence and initiate skills that will help them gain autonomy and dictate their post-secondary goals.

Depending on the type and degree of disability, children with special needs can transition into college and adulthood with minimal support, or they may need consistent assistance. Parents and school advocates can work together to develop a personalized plan of action for a successful transition.

Individual Transitional Plan (ITP)

An Individual Transitional Plan (ITP) is a portion of the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that details the short-term and long-term transition goals and services for the student following high school. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that a student must have an ITP in place by the student’s 16th birthday. The transition goals are independent of IEP goals and focus on post-secondary education, independent living, and employment.

Students who are at a higher functioning level may be more likely to attend post-secondary education and pursue a career, while students who are at a moderate to severe functioning level will have a plan that focuses on independent living skills. The plan should be optimized for not only the student’s interests, but help create a path for a successful future.

Post-Secondary Education

If a student is preparing to attend vocational school or college, it is in their best interest to attend their IEP team meetings and learn how to advocate for themselves in a learning environment. The team can use goals to help set expectations for the student and to teach skills including how to:

  • Research for schools
  • Find out about the application process
  • Fill out a job application
  • Prepare for a job interview
  • Use public transportation
  • Obtain a state ID card
  • Pay for school expenses

Students may also need support identifying a career path or area of interest to study. Transition assessors, school counselors, and advisors can play an important role in assisting students with IEPs to identify their personal strengths as well as areas that need improvement. For example, a student with an interest or personal knowledge-base in technology might be guided to pursue a career in information technology or computer programming.

Determining Transition Goals

Establishing transition goals requires a unique and individualized approach for each student. Goals are developed based on assessment outcomes and the child’s needs as identified prior to their 16th birthday. Goal identification should begin as early as elementary school when the student is beginning to develop particular interests as they learn key concepts. In middle school, the student may become more focused on a particular subject or topic, guiding their interests toward a potential career path, and in high school, students can further explore a specific area or skill set. This practice is standard for general education students preparing for postsecondary education and must be made a common practice for students with disabilities preparing for life after high school as well.

The Parent Advocate

Parents play an essential role in the development of transition guidance. Meeting with an IEP team 30 minutes a year to consult on a transition plan is not sufficient nor effective, and contributes to why schools struggle to develop successful student ITPs. As with any service, an ITP begins with a comprehensive transitional assessment. From there, parents can advocate for their child in team meetings, request annual reassessments, and seek legal assistance to help guide the process of transitioning. Having an understanding of California ITP compliance requirements can help parents advocate effectively throughout the goal-setting process.

Preparing for Independence

If the student’s end goal is to live at home with their parents, the student still needs to learn how to be as independent as possible. Determining goals that can help the student learn life skills such as cooking, cleaning, and maintaining a safe environment are essential to healthy, independent living.

Regardless of the student’s transition objectives, it is important for the student to be able to recognize their differences and understand that learning differently is normal. Having a strong understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and being able to vocalize their needs and ask questions will help make them better learners and take on fulfilling responsibilities.

Creating opportunities for students with disabilities to connect with other individuals with similar disabilities will help them recognize their potential and see that it is possible to be successful and follow their dreams. Exemplifying high-profile individuals such as actor Keanu Reeves and California Governor Gavin Newsome, who have both been diagnosed with dyslexia and were able to create plans to overcome their language challenges, can also be inspiring. President Biden has struggled with a speech impediment throughout his life as well.

Developing self-advocacy is an important tool for students who learn differently. Understanding their differences will only help a student become more successful, gain self-reliance, and be proud of their accomplishments.

When to Seek Legal Help

Navigating IEP and ITP meetings can be challenging and stressful. If you feel overwhelmed by the process, it is important to seek legal assistance as quickly as possible. Hiring an attorney who works exclusively in special education is essential to the unique nature of advocating for children with diverse needs.

Jennifer Chang is an experienced Education Rights Attorney in California. She has successfully assisted many students with disabilities and their families to understand their legal rights surrounding transitional plans and help them receive the services they deserve. To schedule an appointment with Jennifer, contact her office today.