Tips to Make a Well-Informed Transition into Life After High School

Tips to Make a Well-Informed Transition into Life After High School

A Brief Overview

  • Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) need to have a Transition Plan written into the IEP by the school year when they turn 16, but it’s never too soon to start talking, planning and envisioning the future.
  • Students can stay in school until they are 21—an option for youth who need more time to learn and prepare for adulthood. The IEP team determines a projected graduation date and writes this date into the IEP document.
  • Transition Services in the IEP can support a High School and Beyond Plan, Washington State’s toolkit that is a state requirement for all students to get ready for next steps.
  • In Washington, a student takes charge of educational programming at 18 unless other arrangements are designed. Read on for more details.
  • See our companion articles about Student-Led IEP meetings and a new option for pre-employment support through the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Full Article

Senior year is loaded with projects, planning and a big push to finish requirements and figure out what happens next. For students with special needs, there can be a few extra steps, and it’s never too soon to start thinking and planning for this important transition.

Here are some practical tips and a range of resources to help youth and families make well-informed decisions.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) must include a Transition Plan with individualized Transition Services by the school year in which a student turns 16. Best practice is to start planning for this in seventh or eighth grade, as outlined in the state-required High School and Beyond Plan. If you are starting later than that, don’t worry! Get started now, and your efforts will certainly reap benefits into the future.

When a Transition Plan is added to an IEP, consider that this life-after-high-school planning now focuses the IEP on post-secondary goals and outcomes. Helping the student engage with the IEP team in conversation around these three questions can help direct planning and school supports that will help the student reach the written Transition Plan Goals:  

  1. Where am I now? (strengths, interests, capacities—the Present Levels of Performance in the IEP)
  2. Where do I want to go? (aspirations, dreams, expectations—Transition Plan Goals in the IEP)
  3. How do I get there? (transition services, courses, activities, supports, service linkages, community connections, help to overcome barriers—Annual Goals, Accommodations and other provisions included in the IEP)

The graduation standards for a student eligible for special education are the same as for all other students. In our state, a district’s flexibility in determining how a student fulfills those requirements comes from the Washington Administrative Code (WAC Section 180-51-115). Each school district will have its own policy for implementing these state rules, and you can request a copy of your district’s policy. If there is any confusion, you can encourage the school to consult the district special education office for guidance.

In short, the student’s IEP team determines how the student will meet graduation requirements and how long she/he will stay in school.

A student doesn’t have to graduate at the end of a traditional senior year. A student remains eligible for special education until graduation requirements are met and the student has earned a high school diploma (WAC Section 392-172A-02000). However, a school does not have to hold back credits for a student to remain eligible. The student’s IEP team determines the student’s graduation plan, including the planned graduation date. The student could potentially meet all graduation requirements, but if the IEP team has determined that the student needs further schooling to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), then the student has a right to stay in school to age 21.

In the meantime, a student can participate in commencement ceremonies at the end of a traditional senior year, with peers, under a Washington provision called Kevin’s Law. Students and families should communicate with a special education teacher, case manager or school counselor to ensure that all information about graduation and senior year events is clearly understood and shared. Plan early for needed accommodations at senior year events.

When assessing the Transition Plan in the IEP you can ask these questions:

  • Is the plan age appropriate?
  • Is information provided by more than one source?
  • Do the post-secondary goals consider all areas of life after high school, including employment, further education, independent living and community engagement?
  • Are the goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely?
  • Is a target graduation date included in the IEP?

In Washington State, the Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) has provided a guidance document for all students called the High School and Beyond Plan. You can access that plan and the state’s graduation requirements on OSPI’s Website.

For Special Education students, the plan is not replaced but can be further supported by the plan that includes Transition Services in the IEP. Each school district determines the precise guidelines for students to meet the requirements of the High School and Beyond Plan, and some schools use tools with different names. Becoming familiar with the state-recommended format and then comparing this tool to your school’s requirements and the student’s specific IEP programming is a good way to participate in making sure your student has a robust plan.

A student takes charge of educational planning and programming at the Age of Majority, which is 18 in Washington. According to the Washington Administrative Code (WAC Section 392-172A-03090), “Beginning not later than one year before the student reaches the age of 18, the IEP must include a statement that the student has been informed of the student’s rights under the act, if any, that will transfer to the student on reaching the age of majority.”

Parents have a few options if they wish to continue to have rights to participate in their child’s education:

  1. Guardianship (org)
  2. Power of Attorney (Washington State Legislature)
  3. The student can choose to include “other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the student” on the IEP team (WAC Section 392-172A-03095).
  4. Another option is supported decision-making. Informing Families has a helpful tool for designing this voluntary, informal plan.

Families will want to clarify what specific roles and powers parents will retain under the arrangement designed by your family and the school. The special services office at your school may be able to help with this; without legal guardianship or Power of Attorney your student will need to sign consent for you to attend meetings and participate in decision-making.

Regardless of the arrangement, families will want to have some conversations to help a student envision a future and start to see how to get there. A variety of tools are available, including these:

For youth who struggle with behavioral health challenges, transitions can trigger some additional challenges. These resources may provide some helpful tips:

Another resource that might help with planning is the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). Each school is assigned a DVR counselor to assist with pre-employment training. You can look up the name and phone number for your school’s DVR counselor online through a link provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. A new option for youth and families to receive pre-employment counseling is from a program called Foundational Community Supports. Check out PAVE’s companion article about this program.

Good luck with your planning! If you need more specific support unique to your situation, get help from one of our Parent Training and Information (PTI) resource coordinators by filling out a Help Request Form or by calling 1-800-572-7368.

Open Doors for Multicultural Families provides a Transition Resource Guide available in 10 languages

 

So you’re at College…What Next?

Navigating the Higher Education Environment When You Live With Disability

Research over the past 20 years indicates that a fairly high percentage of college students with disability choose not to disclose that disability to a college administration.  They are tired of “being labeled” or singled out because of their situation and simply want to participate in the same way as students without disability.  This doesn’t necessarily mean hiding their disability (pretty difficult to hide a mobility device or service animal), they’ve just “had it” with permissions, meetings, and forms.

At the same time, many students get onto campus wanting not to disclose, and discover that yes, they *do* have to jump through the hoops at Disability Services in order to access strategic supports.

[If you’ve already met with the disability/access services office at your campus, and provided documents to receive services and equipment, you can skip this next section]

If you’re just beginning the access process, this is what you have to do:

Be able to clearly explain your disability and your specific requirements for services and equipment. It’s better to ask for more than you might expect to get, but be aware of the possibility that if the school can’t provide a service or equipment and you absolutely need it, you and your family will have to bear the expense, or you will have to find a school where such services/equipment is available.

Make an appointment at Disability/Access Services

Fill out any forms requesting services and equipment (usually available online)

Make certain you have all required documentation.

Below is an example of typical required documentation.  It can vary from school to school, and you will find a similar list again, usually on the school’s website under “Disability/Access Services”.

“In order for a student to receive an educational accommodation due to the presence of a disability, documentation from a professional service provider must be obtained. Professional providers may include, but not necessarily be limited to, those identified below:

Disability Category         Professional Provider

ADD ADHD                        Psychologist/Psychiatrist

Emotional disability       Psychologist/Psychiatrist

Auditory disability          Certified Otologist, Audiologist

Visual disability               Ophthalmologist, Certified Optometrist

Learning disability          Psychologist, Neuropsychologist, Learning Disability Specialist

Physical disability           Medical Doctor, Physical Therapist, Orthopedic Surgeon, Doctor of Rehabilitation

Chronic health impairment         Medical Doctor, Medical Specialist

Documentation from a professional service provider must be in writing, must be current within three years, and must include the following when appropriate:

A description of the student’s disability and how he/she is affected educationally by the presence of the disabling condition.

Identification of any tests or assessments administered to the student.

For students identified as having a specific learning disability, the assessment must be specific to the student, comprehensive, and include:

Aptitude

Achievement

Assessment of the student’s information processing capabilities,

Raw data and interpretation of the data

Specific educational recommendations based on the data interpreted.

Effect on the student’s ability to complete a course of study.

Suggestions for educational accommodations that will provide equal access to programs, services, and activities…”

-Source: Tacoma Community College, Tacoma, WA at: http://www.tacomacc.edu/resourcesandservices/accessservices/forms/

What Happens After the Appointment with Disability Services?

After the appointment, you’ll get an official notification from the Disability/Access Services administration informing you of your eligibility for services, and if eligible, what services you can expect to receive.

You may have to place additional calls to Disability/Access Services to determine when services begin, where to pick up equipment, arrange meetings with note takers, etc.

At most schools, YOU are responsible for notifying each of your instructors (every semester!) of your requirements for accommodations. Hang on to that eligibility letter–better yet, make multiple copies to hand out to instructors.  Having known many college instructors, I suggest you don’t send this by email alone. Hard copy rules in this case.

Informing instructors about accommodations means giving plenty of notice for them to order alternatives to conventional textbooks. If you’re doing this at the beginning of a semester, expect delays getting the material. This sometimes happens even when you had your appointment with Disability/Access Services many months in advance of the semester. If so, you may have to negotiate with your instructor for extensions on assignments.

Make sure you understand the limits of what the school is providing for assistive technology. For instance, many schools limit the loan of portable screen-readers to specified uses or time frames. You may have to provide your own equipment or software outside those limits.

Some Disability/Access offices are one-stop shopping, and can set you up with tutors, any necessary remedial courses and on-campus health services (including mental/emotional health).  At other schools, it’s very fragmented, and YOU will have to find these services separately, even when they are related to your disability.

Most such services are available through departments labeled “Student Services”, “Student Success Services”, “Counseling”, “Health Services” and the like.  If you are unsure of where to find services, you can contact staff in an office usually labeled “Dean of Student Services”.  College Deans are top-level administrators who oversee a number of related departments.  Their staff are knowledgeable about all departments under that Dean’s authority.

Who to Talk with About Issues

What if you have issues with instructors not allowing or ignoring your accommodations?

Your first step should be to re-issue your eligibility letter to that instructor, following up by requesting the Disability/Access office to notify the instructor of your eligibility through their office. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, all schools accepting federal funds will have a Section 504 Coordinator (or similar title) on campus. This person is probably on staff in the Disability/Access Services office, wearing additional hats. Complaints regarding your access to materials, instruction, and class activities go to this person.

If you’re not using a Section 504 plan but still require accommodations, all schools accepting federal funds will also have an ADA Coordinator (or similar title). This person may or may not be located in the Disability/Access Services office but that office will be able to direct you to them.

[The ADA Coordinator is also the person to see when you have an unresolved issue around physical access on campus or with any program offered away from the main campus.]

Complaints about instructors *not* relating to your accommodations are usually addressed to the Dean of Academic Affairs (yes, another Dean), or the Chairperson of the academic department for that instructor.

In most cases, it’s appropriate to discuss any concerns with your instructor before escalating a concern or complaint up the line.

Navigating the Campus:

If your disability includes physical limitations you’re already aware of how many barriers exist to full participation in any environment. Many, many schools were built prior to ADA, and their facilities reflect lots of poor accessibility design. [I attended a school that only had accessible restrooms on every other floor, and in each case those restrooms were at the opposite end of the hallway from the elevators! At another school, I had classes in a building that underwent (planned) replacement of the only building elevator during the height of the semester].

If possible, move onto campus (or visit the campus) early for some “dry runs”. Acquire a campus map to figure out the quickest to get to classes, dining halls and sports facilities.

Make friends with the administrators working at Campus Police. (They’re the ones who assign parking spaces and they also know the best and quickest ways around grounds and buildings.)

It also doesn’t hurt to know the phone number for the folks who run the facilities. This department is sometimes called Physical Plant, Facilities, or Buildings and Grounds. They’re really useful when the accessible restroom is out of order, when the elevator breaks down, and when you want to know if certain areas are clear of snow and ice.

Lots of Fuss-Why Bother?

All this navigation of a college’s bureaucracy seems overwhelming, listed here all at once. Don’t get discouraged. I’ve listed these possibilities here so you can make notes for yourself and be prepared. With luck, you’ll never need to contact some of these offices or people. On the other hand, “entropy happens”—things sometimes go sour. Knowledge is power!