Parents of children diagnosed on the autism spectrum are often concerned about their child’s transition from the structured environment of a school-based program to the post-secondary world and all of the hurdles that transition entails.
A student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is the educational “roadmap” which includes goals and objectives, related service mandates, necessary modifications, supports and other individualized components of a student’s program. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts are required to implement “transition services” to facilitate movement from school to post-school activities.
This article provides an overview of the transition requirements under IDEA as well as tips on how you can effectively advocate for your child’s transition needs.
When Must Your IEP Team Consider Post-School Transition Planning?
IEP teams must consider transition planning for the first IEP that will be in effect when your child is 16 years old. School districts, of course, can begin the transition planning process earlier if the IEP team determines that is appropriate.
What are “Transition Services?”
Transition services generally include a coordinated set of activities for your child with a disability. Under IDEA these services must:
- Be designed within a results-oriented process focused on improving academic and functional achievement to facilitate movement from school to post-school activities. This can include post-secondary education, vocational education, adult services, independent living, and community participation;
- Be based on your child’s individual needs including strengths, preferences and interests;
- Include instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives and, if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation. 1
It should be the goal of the IEP team to sit down and figure out how all of these moving pieces can fit together appropriately for your child’s transition.
What About Transition Goals?
Pursuant to federal law, your child’s IEP must include measurable postsecondary goals in the areas of training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills. Your school district must also develop a statement of transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist your child in reaching his or her transition goals. This requires your school district to report periodically on your child’s progress against these goals.
Your child’s IEP must include (beginning not later than one year before your child reaches the age of majority under applicable State law) a statement that your child has been informed of the rights, if any, that will transfer to your child on reaching the age of majority.2 After your child attains the age of majority, if rights transfer to your child, the school district must provide requisite notice (i.e., procedural safeguards notice, notice regarding an upcoming IEP meeting, etc.) to both the student and the parents.
Who Should Attend Your Child’s Transition IEP Meeting?
As with almost any IEP meeting, your school district must ensure that the IEP team members include:
- At least one general education teacher of the child (if your child is, or may be, participating in the general education environment);
- At least one special education teacher of the child, or where appropriate, not less than one special education provider of your child;
- A school district representative;
- An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results;
- At the discretion of the parent or the school district, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate. (It is strongly recommended that you secure the participation of your child’s current teachers, therapists and service providers to provide input including after-school or community-based service providers, if any.)
If the purpose of your child’s IEP meeting is the consideration of post-secondary goals and transition services needed to assist your child in reaching those goals, your school district – to the extent appropriate – must invite a representative of any participating agency that is likely to be responsible for providing or paying for transition services to the IEP meeting.
Most importantly, for such a transition meeting, your school district must invite your child to attend the IEP meeting.3 Your child, however, is not required to attend.
Is Your School District Required to Evaluate Your Child Before Discontinuing Services?
School districts are not required to conduct an evaluation before terminating special education services for students who are graduating from secondary school with a regular diploma or for students exceeding the age for services in their State. For some students, this could mean that they do not have the documentation of their disability that is needed to gain access to supports and services in post-school activities, including post-secondary education.
For a child whose eligibility for special education services terminates under the circumstances described above, the school district must provide a “Summary of Performance.” This summary must include information on your child’s academic achievement and functional performance and include recommendations on how to assist your child in meeting his or her post-secondary goals. This “summary” must include specific, meaningful and understandable information to your child, your family and any agency (including higher education institutes) which may provide services to your child upon transition.
Despite the fact that schools are not required to conduct new evaluations or assessments in generating the “Summary of Performance,” the information provided in the summary should adequately describe your child’s present levels of performance and individualized needs.
Topics to Consider Before and During the Transition Planning Process
As you navigate the transition process, it is recommended you consider the following:
- What additional education options (higher education, vocational, etc.) are appropriate for your child?
- What employment options are appropriate? What supports, if any, will your child need to maintain employment?
- What living supports and services, if any, will your child require?
- What social supports will your child require to effectively integrate into the community? What recreation and leisure options are appropriate for your child?
- What income support opportunities are available for your child?
- How will your child’s medical needs be cared for?
- How will your child be able to self-advocate and seek help when needed?
- Will your child secure a driver’s license? What travel training, if any, does your child need in order to effectively navigate the public transportation system?
- Does your child know how to appropriately utilize the world wide web? Have you had discussions regarding the hidden dangers of web-browsing?
- Does your child need information regarding romantic and intimate relationships?
Tips for Parents Preparing for the Transition IEP Meeting
If you find that your child is facing this critical transition period, consider the following tips:
- Advise your district, in writing, that you are interested in discussing transition at the next meeting;
- Take note of your child’s work product, daily living skills, behaviors (if any), social abilities, goals and desires;
- If feasible, discuss your child’s disability with your child and provide guidance on how your child can be a self-advocate and ask for what he or she needs;
- Discuss transition services with your child’s teachers, therapists and providers;
- Familiarize yourself with agencies and organizations that provide transition and post-secondary services to determine what information and resources are available.
The goal of transition planning is to collaborate with your school district to develop an individualized post-education plan. Creating an individually tailored transition plan for your child is not a simple task. Due to the fact that post-school services are not mandated by federal law, it can be difficult to timely secure post-school services and programs as many agencies have long waiting lists. It is essential to thoroughly research available agencies and services that might be able to provide your child with post-secondary services. Remember, you are always your child’s best advocate. As a transition team member, you must remain open-minded and patient on the journey to creating a plan that will enable your child to live as independently and happily as possible.
Maria C. McGinley, MST, JD (New York Law School, ‘10) is an Associate at Mayerson & Associates, a New York law firm dedicated to representing children and adolescents on the autism spectrum, and assisting families in accessing the education and related services necessary and appropriate for students. Prior to practicing at Mayerson & Associates, Ms. McGinley taught students with autism spectrum disorders when she was a special education teacher for the New York City Department of Education.
- See 20 U.S.C. § 1401 and 34 CFR §300.43(a).
- 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(VIII); 34 C.F.R. 300.320(b).
- 34 CFR 300.321(a) and (b)(1); 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(B).