How Teachers Can Help With Transition Planning For Students With Disabilities

Between 14-16 years old, the Individualized Education Program [IEP], also referred to as the Individual Education Plan,  must include provisions related to the transitioning process of special needs students, outlining transition goals and services.

After this age, the plan must respond to one straight-forward question: What happens when students with disabilities leave high school? What’s next? Upon high school graduation, all students should be college and career-ready. Special needs students are not exempt from this level of preparedness for the next phase in their lives.

Transition IEPs establish specific preparation  for post-school life, which can involve training for work or college. This section of the IEP puts a plan in place to outline what must be accomplished towards meeting post-high school goals. The development of the plan includes  parents and the student, as key contributors to determining the focus of the services to be delivered.

woman working girl sitting

Many parents are unaware of available supports and services of making transitions from school to life as an adult. They tend to think that seven years is a long time away. Their child is only 14 years old, and still a ‘baby’ in the minds of some parents. At that age, many of these so-called ‘babies’ are obtaining working papers allowing legal employment. It is important to remind parents that the years tend to go by quickly and they must plan for the next 7 years and beyond. Their child will need help to transition to adulthood, and teachers can play a key role in this process.

Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Collaboratively, teachers and parents can help children, students with disabilities, transition out of school with clear direction. Arming parents with information, building capacity and alerting them to resources, programs and services to support their children’s future, requires planning. This planning is not a one-time event, but rather it is ongoing and requires time and attention to assure smooth transitions out of the school system.

Teachers can help parents by being aware of specific programs, agencies and services available in their area- at the town, county, city and/or state levels. The more teachers know, the better prepared they are to help learners and their parents identify  and access appropriate services related to their needs.

There will certainly be multiple challenges to parenting, identifying and meeting the unique needs of children. Parents’ advocacy skills and degree of ‘caring’ will be questioned at many times-in  different settings. That is stressful, for if we know nothing else, it should ALWAYS be assumed that parents love their children. Parents are often preoccupied with just getting through each day amidst these challenges. Teachers and school staff can help parents navigate their day to day through the information they offer and the manner with which it is delivered. 

Without access to the ever-changing information about programs or services, it is quite difficult for parents to  effectively advocate for their child in areas about which teachers and other professionals are or should already be knowledgeable. The framework of family engagement practices dictates that parents be empowered, collectively and individually, with all information that serves the best interest of children.

man wearing black adidas jacket sitting on chair near another man wearing blue jacket

Rather than blaming parents for the lack of knowledge, educators can provide or seek information that will help them help their children and themselves. It is not the sole responsibility of family liaisons to disseminate information to parents and caregivers.   

For a wide range of reasons, many parents do not actively seek information useful to them in their child’s early years. Or, they are unaware of where they can go for information and/or the existence of services available to their child. It behooves teachers to acquire a portfolio of resources that may be helpful supports to students and their parents–the earlier, the better.

There’s a large number of high school students’ parents who have not applied for Social Security income and are unaware of services that could support their students’ needs. Don’t let parents go without support services for too long, because many programs have multi-year waiting lists just to get applications processed.

” What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Adults and parents will usually ask this question early in a child’s life. This is asked of children without IEPs. This type of long-range thinking need be applied to those children who require additional supports. Time passes quickly. This question needs to be asked of ‘special needs’ learners as well. With early planning, that should provide direction for the students about whom 

There are so many legal documents that are presented to parents each academic school year. Teachers should have a list of those important documents that students will need each year, and remind parents to ensure these documents are readily accessible. This includes the IEP, 504 and others.

people coffee meeting team

Encourage students to create a folder that will contain  documents such as:

  • letters of reference
  • summary of health/medical history and providers
  • copy of birth records
  • family and emergency contacts
  • vocational assessments
  • copy of diploma, school records including transcript and performance summary
  • copies of most recent IEP
  • contacts for providers and agency personnel currently engaged
  • video resume
  • copies of trusts, legal guardianship and similar authorizations.

Centralizing information and documents related to school and post school planning will be extremely helpful to students and their families.

Get to know the service providers at your school. Even though you may not have a student who needs physical therapy, it is important to get to know these providers and their specialty services. It helps prepare you for future students, build a rapport within your school or district and support a multidisciplinary perspective. These specialists can provide insights into transition planning. Teachers who make these efforts are better positioned to support students and families’ needs with the most recent information.

Teachers of older students should be participatory in ongoing professional development, specifically learning activities related to special needs students’ transitioning into adulthood. Engage and empower parents, being mindful that next to parents, teachers are the closest adults in their children’s lives. Partner and collaborate; motivate and inspire.

As professionals, the more you know and the wider your network, the better you can serve your students. The better you serve your students, the better you serve their families’ best interests.



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