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 and exploration and information gathering by age 16. Do not wait until the last year of schooling.
This is Part Two of a two-part article which covers the suggested steps toward transition into two categories: Exploratory and Self-Development. Of course each transition 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. Part One, entitled Transition Plan: What to Do When They “Age Out”? addresses the exploratory process for parents. This article, Part Two focuses on Young Adult Self Development.
Fine-tune Skills in Areas of Interest
Provide occasions for your child to take classes outside of school in his/her area of passion or interest. For instance, if your child is into photography, have him take a PhotoShop or photography class at the local continuation school, library or community program. Or if your child shows interest in hiking or the outdoors, connect them with a local hiking club to learn more about nature and survival. Perhaps your child has shown interest in trains. See if your local train station or museum has any classes or ways in which your child can volunteer. Honing your young adult’s passions might open up opportunities for employment or involvement in these fields of interest.
Independent Living – Life Skills
Ensure that this is part of your child’s IEP goals as well as something you focus on at home. The more independent your child is, the more opportunities will be available. It is a huge disservice to your child to delay attention to this area. Learning proper grooming, dressing and independent toileting skills is vital to increasing opportunities. For example, if your child is not somewhat independent in the bathroom, this could close some doors of opportunity for programs or jobs. These same skills should be practiced at home during “customary” times and settings for these skills. While, for some, complete independence may not be possible, helping the individual achieve their personal best is important. Also, your child should be carrying an appropriate form of ID (whether Driver’s License, state ID card, school ID, ID bracelet or custom created by you) and should be taught how to show this ID as needed and as appropriate for his/her ability.
Community-Based Instruction (CBI) and Social Integration Opportunities
Confirm that your child’s IEP includes opportunities to get out into the community (such as grocery store, library, movies, restaurants, etc.) and learn in “real world” environments. Although honing these skills at school is essential, it is important that this learning also be part of your family life providing additional real life experiences and settings. Joining family members at the grocery store to select family groceries and utilizing appropriate payment options are great ways to learn functional life skills.
Money Management & Use
Offer ample opportunities for money management and usage in real world situations. Whether your child is learning how to use cash in the classroom and in real world situations or perhaps is even learning how to use a debit card, having opportunities during CBIs and family outings is extremely helpful in sharpening these skills. Doing self-checkout at a grocery store is also a great way practice this skill. If appropriate, get your child a checking account and teach check writing and balancing skills. In addition, teaching the value of money by earning money for jobs helps with money management.
Functional Vocational & Pre-Vocational Opportunities
Having opportunities during the school day to perform various jobs is very helpful as part of the transition process. Depending on your child’s abilities, he may need a school-provided job coach, job shadow or mentor. These opportunities will help build on job skills as well as help determine what type of work your child enjoys.
And finally, one helpful suggestion I would make to parents as they are entering the process is to focus on independence. Whether your think your child will ever “be independent” in certain areas is not crucial. Independence can be measured in degrees and ongoing (even slight) improvement is all encouraging. It’s providing and requesting opportunities for these skills to be practiced consistently at school and at home. You will be amazed at how much success will be made in little steps as they continue to build and add up through time. Set the bar high and enjoy the results. Remember an ongoing progression in all of these areas is going to benefit you and your young adult child in the long run.