Ready for Work: Vocational Rehabilitation Provides Guidance and Tools

A Brief Overview

  • Vocational rehabilitation (VR) is a federal right that has not been waived during school and office closures related to COVID-19. Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) are one way to get support. Another is through 1:1 counseling and an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).
  • The best way to seek DVR services for a student still working toward graduation is to contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map, Find a School Transition Counselor.
  • Families and students also can reach out to regional DVR staff for information about how to access services, including summer camps and programs.
  • Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).
  • Graduating seniors can seek DVR and DSB services now!

Full Article

Teenagers and young adults with disabilities have additional considerations when deciding what life looks like after high school. The transition planning process, which begins in middle school and continues through high-school graduation and beyond, is extra challenging with social distancing measures and uncertainty about how jobs and higher education are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Washington State, young people can get help from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which is housed within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). DVR staff are working remotely and creatively to continue providing services to adults and students during office and school closures, says Chelsie Gillum, a Regional Transition Consultant (RTC) in Pierce County.

DVR services are a civil right

The right to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services is an aspect of Title 1 of the amended Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In 2014, the Rehabilitation Act, which guarantees equitable access to public spaces and programs, was further amended to include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) were already an aspect of the Rehabilitation Act, but WIOA further defines Pre-ETS and requires that VR agencies set aside 15 percent of their funding to provide or arrange for the provision of Pre-ETS.

Note that Section 504 is also a feature of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 guarantees the right to accommodations for equitable access in public facilities and programs and is the basis for a student’s “504 Plan” that provides accommodations, modifications, and anti-discrimination measures for educational access. Section 504 protections aren’t limited to school: Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 protect a person in higher education, work, and elsewhere throughout the lifespan.

None of these federal rights have been waived during COVID-19.

Pre-ETS may include summer options

Gillum is among DVR staff who support groups of students with Pre-ETS. Generally, programs include job exploration, work-based learning, counseling about further educational options, workplace readiness and self-advocacy training. Some programs are being offered online or through other distance delivery methods in Summer 2020.

For example, a Youth Leadership Forum is being organized as a weeklong virtual camp in July 2020. A Facebook page for YLF is one way to learn more. Junior Achievement: Finance Park is another summer option for students statewide who want to learn more about personal finance and business. Families and students can reach out to regional DVR staff for specific information about these and other options for summer and beyond.

“Just because you cannot attend a camp in-person does not mean you have to miss out on valuable work readiness training and work-based learning experiences,” Gillum says.

Gillum says virtual job fairs, recorded informational interviews and virtual tours of job sites are options during social distancing. “Agencies and businesses are still hiring,” she says. “DVR applications are being processed, and intake meetings are being conducted.”

Gillum encourages 2020 graduating seniors to seek services right away: “I want to make sure our graduating students are as connected as possible, especially given how uncertain the world is right now,” she says.

Pre-ETS can start at ages 14-16 or later

Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) can receive Pre-ETS as young as age 14, if the IEP includes a Transition Plan. An IEP team can write a Transition Plan into the IEP whenever the student, family and school staff are ready to begin that process. DVR staff can support that work, Gillum says, and families can initiate those contacts.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that governs special education process and protects the rights of eligible student, requires that an IEP include a Transition Plan by the school year in which the student turns 16. PAVE provides an article and a video about the high-school transition process in general. In addition, PAVE has an article about graduation and life-planning impacts of the shutdown: High School Halt.

Students 16 and older can receive Pre-ETS from DVR if they have an IEP, a Section 504 Plan and/or a documented disability and a family caregiver and school staff sign a DVR consent form. If the student is 18 or older (educational age of majority in Washington), the student and school staff sign the DVR form.

Families and students can contact DVR directly

Gillum says the best way to access the 2-page consent form and begin services is to contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map on a page called, Find a School Transition Counselor. By entering the county, school district, and name of the school, families can get a name and phone number for the DVR staff member assigned to their specific school.

Families also can look on DVR’s Pre-Employment Transition Services website page and scroll down to the chart that lists Regional Transition Consultants by area/county and includes phone numbers.

Families, schools, and students will need to work collaboratively to provide the required signatures for consent forms during the pandemic. Scanned versions may suffice in the short term, although mailed copies may eventually be required. A DVR counselor can provide guidance about the best methods for submitting the required forms to begin services.

Services for the blind are managed separately

Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency in Washington State. The Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) provides Pre-ETS and VR for clients statewide and maintains an Orientation and Training Center (OTC), to help individuals learn to navigate the world with limited or no vision, in Seattle.

DSB continues to serve clients during school and facility closures, says Michael MacKillop, Acting Executive Director. In early spring, 2020, MacKillop noted that DSB had been able to serve all clients who qualified for services, clearing a waitlist that is part of the state’s Order of Selection to serve clients within its budget.

Order of Selection impacts access to 1:1 DVR support

DVR also operates with Order of Selection when clients apply for individualized vocational rehabilitation (VR) counseling. The Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) is a DVR program that is separate from Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). The IPE is supported 1:1, whereas pre-employment services are generally provided to groups of students.

Through Order of Selection, individuals with the highest needs for support are prioritized for 1:1 support from a DVR counselor. When developing an IPE, the client and counselor establish a goal for employment; the counselor provides coaching, logistical and sometimes financial support to help make that happen. The case remains open until the employment goal is met if the client remains meaningfully engaged in the process. IPE services might include educational support if further education is needed to achieve a job goal.

Can a student get Pre-ETS and 1:1 help?

A student might receive services through both programs—Pre-ETS and the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). However, families should be aware that there are some specific rules related to Order of Selection.

  • If a student is already participating in Pre-ETS, the student can apply for an IPE and Order of Selection will not impact the student’s ongoing engagement in Pre-ETS.
  • If the student applies for an IPE first and is put on a waiting list, then the student also will have to wait to begin Pre-ETS.
  • A student will have more access to DVR services by engaging with the Pre-ETS first and then considering whether to also apply for individualized support.

Signing a consent form with DVR is the first step

The family and school need to work together to complete DVR’s consent form before services can begin. Some programs, including summer camps, require a student to be officially enrolled in Pre-ETS. Completing the consent form is a first step.

Services from DVR expand work underway at school

Note that all students in Washington work with counselors and other school staff on a High School and Beyond Plan, which includes interest surveys and career cruising, encourages volunteer work, and provides an organizational method to ensure that a student’s work in school strengthens a pathway toward adult goals. The state requires this planning to begin in Middle School, by 7th– 8th grade, for all students.

Summary of Tools for Transition

To summarize, a student with a disability has a set of possible tools to support the high-school transition and plans for higher education, work, and independent living:

  1. High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP)—described on the website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). The HSBP is a tool for all Washington students and required to begin by 8th
  2. IEP Transition Plan—described by OSPI in a booklet, Guidelines for Aligning High School & Beyond Plans (HSBP) and IEP Transition Plans. A Transition Plan is an IEP requirement by age 16.
  3. Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) from DVR, for students with a documented disability who may have an IEP, a Section 504 Plan or no plan. A student does not need to be eligible for DVR case management to receive Pre-ETS.
  4. An Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE), if eligible, with 1:1 DVR support
  5. Person Centered Planning is another tool: PAVE provides an article about PCP, with reminders that sessions can happen in person or virtually.

Key elements of Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS)

Pre-ETS include five required services. Each service in this list is linked to a resource for further investigation. DVR counselors can provide additional resources to suit an individual’s unique circumstances:

  1. Job exploration counseling: career speakers, interest and ability inventories, investigation of labor market statistics and trends, and more
  2. Work-based learning experiences: in-school or after school opportunities, including internships, provided in an integrated environment to the maximum extent possible. According to the Brookings Institution, work-based learning is predictive of future job quality.
  3. Counseling on opportunities for further education: How to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA®) and how to locate disability resource centers at colleges and universities are part of college readiness.
  4. Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living
  5. Instruction in self-advocacy, which may include peer mentoring, training in disability disclosure, and more

Work-based learning and work readiness programs are generally provided by agencies that contract with DVR, says Gillum from DVR in Tacoma. “Transition consultants oversee those contracts and help connect students and agencies to develop a service plan.”

Why VR is worth the work and where to go for more information

Research shows that access to an array of collaborative services during high school improves post-secondary outcomes, especially when school staff and service providers get to know one another and there are “warm hand-offs” between individuals who develop trusted relationships with the young person, according to data shared by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT). Another place for data and detail about WIOA is the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC).

Engagement with vocational rehabilitation services is supported by initiatives endorsed by the U.S. Department of Labor and its Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). These federal agencies promote the concept of Employment First, a framework for systems change centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life. 

The PACER Center, a Minnesota-based agency founded in 1977 to promote a “parents helping parents” philosophy, supports the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment, which offers a collection of materials with more information about vocational rehabilitation and how to benefit from pre-employment and employment services. Included in the PACER Center’s materials is a booklet for parents to help young people prepare for college and careers.

Washington’s DVR program provides a video about the school-to-work transition with young people talking about their experiences with the agency and how it helped.

Chelsie Gillum from the Pierce County region of DVR encourages young people and families to contact DVR despite the pandemic. “Even if vocational rehabilitation services are not what you need immediately,” she says, “our team can help connect you with other resources to help you during the pandemic. We appreciate your patience and flexibility as we all adjust to meet people’s needs in this ever-changing landscape. We cannot wait to hear from you!”

 

High School Halt: Ways to Support Youth Working on Adult Life Plans During the School Shutdown

School closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic have been a shock to families everywhere but may feel especially confusing for those who are working toward graduation and life-after-high-school plans. Parents and students may be wondering what will enable students to complete work toward their diplomas, to meet college admission requirements or to continue work toward vocational and/or independent living goals.

This article includes links to resources where information is being regularly updated to help families navigate some of these questions. Also included are ideas for organizing some at-home learning so that young people continue to make progress toward adult life planning.

On March 24, the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NCTACT) provided a webinar to promote home-based learning for transition-age youth with disabilities. This article includes some of the ideas and resources shared, and the NTACT website provides additional materials free for families and school staff: TransitionTA.org/COVID19.

Can my student stay on track to graduate?

The Washington State Board of Education (SBE) provides updated information about graduation impacts of the school shutdown and supports education agencies (school districts, private schools, etc.) to seek emergency waivers so students in the graduating Class of 2020, who were on track to graduate, are not held back. The State Legislature passed a law in response to coronavirus (EHB 2965) that supported the waivers. 

This year’s graduation standards also are impacted by a 2019 law that provides multiple pathways toward a diploma. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) offers a website page describing the Graduation Pathways and provides a handout specifically for the graduating Class of 2020 because of unique options while the 2019 law is still being implemented.

For a student eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the IEP team determines what criteria are met for the student to earn a diploma and the timeline for graduation. Families are encouraged to reach out to IEP case managers and school staff when possible to collaborate on how the IEP will be adjusted in light of the school closures.

OSPI provides a list of Resources for Continuous Learning During School Closures. Included is a list specifically for Supporting Students with Disabilities. On that list are various career cruising and secondary-transition planning tools that the school and family might use to support a student during this time of distance learning. More ideas are included below.

What about college admission requirements?

Students who are college-bound may have questions about admissions requirements and whether they can still be met. The National Association for College Admission Counseling has encouraged colleges to be flexible and has created a central resource of campus changes to the college admission process due to the coronavirus outbreak. The tool includes information on campus closures, deposit and decision deadlines, and other admission-related changes from more than 800 colleges and universities.

How can I help my student organize the day to include learning?

NCTACT offers home-based packets and toolkits to help schools and families work together to ensure that learning continues for transition-age youth. Included is a sample weekly scheduling tool. In its March 24 webinar, the agency encouraged creative ways to support regular work in each of the key areas of learning for a student with an IEP:

  • Life skills
  • Self-determination
  • Self-advocacy
  • Desire to work
  • Enriching experiences
  • Appropriate goals

Teachable moments might include real-life situations related to the pandemic and a new routine. Students still can have the opportunity to make choices and to live with the consequences of choices and actions. For example, a student-made meal might not be gourmet but can be enjoyed on its merits of life-skill-building and risk-taking.

How can the IEP support work at home?

NCTACT recommends development of a consistent routine and documentation of daily work and any progress or regression. To help with planning, anyone supporting the student can take a close look at the current IEP.

The Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance, which are built from evaluation results, can provide inside about the student’s strengths, interests and capacities. Annual goals will highlight the areas of specially designed instruction being provided through the IEP. Consider how instruction might be adapted for at-home instruction in order for progress to continue toward the goal—or whether a more suitable goal might be considered. If school staff are available for consultation, parents can collaborate to set up a shared approach.

For a student older than 16, a post-secondary transition plan is included in the IEP and includes projections about adult goals and the skills being worked on to get there. NCTACT provides Choice Boards to support ongoing work in three key areas that are aspects of a transition plan:

  • Career exploration
  • Education and training
  • Independent living

The Choice Boards are pre-loaded with resource linkages and suggestions.

PAVE provides a webinar and a comprehensive article about life-after-high-school planning with further guidance about the transition process in general. More time at home together might give families a good opportunity to sit back and consider key questions to help the student make future plans:

  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)

What can we do at home today?

Consider how transition programming can be adapted to current circumstances so that the student continues to be inspired and to make progress toward life goals in each day’s work and play.

NCTACT encourages adults and students to recognize what is appropriate and reasonable and to remain creative and flexible. Below are some typical home-based subject areas that might support learning and skill-building, with a few linkages to resources that might help.

  • Leisure and Recreation
  • Home Maintenance
    • Organizing
    • Cooking
    • Cleaning
    • Yard Work
  • Personal Care
    • Exercise—Planet Fitness offers “Home Work-Ins”
    • Personal Care—org offers ideas to assist young adults in taking charge of their healthcare
  • Finances
    • Budgeting—Cents and Sensibility from the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation provides an approach for individuals with autism.
    • Practice with money by paying for things throughout the day
  • Communication
    • Letter and email writing
    • Webinars
    • Phone calls/interview a friend or relative about their career path and write about it?

Additional resources to inspire planning

In addition to NCTACT’s suggestions and the OSPI resources listed above, here are a few other places that provide vocational questionnaires and forecasting tools:

  • AgExplorer.com helps students imagine themselves in fields related to farming and beyond
  • ExploreWork.com helps students with disabilities consider their strengths and interests and how to relate them to work options
  • RAISECenter.org offers a variety of tools related to vocational rehabilitation. (RAISE stands for Resources for Advocacy, Independence, Self-determination and Employment.)
  • CareerOneStop.org, sponsored by the US Department of Labor, provides career assessments through its website and a mobile app.
  • An agency called Nepris is providing online chats to help prepare students for the future of work.

To brainstorm options related to higher education, here are some options for further information:

For additional ideas about supporting a student with in-home learning please refer to PAVE’s Links for Learning at Home During School Closure.

Please note that any resource list provided by PAVE is not exhaustive, and PAVE does not endorse or support these agencies. Links are provided for information only.

 

Adolescent Health Care Act Provides Options for Families Seeking Mental Health and Substance Use Help for Young People Resistant to Treatment

A Brief Overview

  • The Adolescent Behavioral Health Care Access Act, passed into law by the Washington Legislature in 2019, gives parents and providers more leverage in treating a young person who won’t or can’t independently seek medical help for mental illness and/or substance use disorder.
  • The Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA) in March 2020 launched several website links with information about the new law, which includes an option for Family Initiated Treatment (FIT).
  • The Washington State Hospital Association on July 9, 2019, provided a slide presentation describing the law’s history and its primary features.
  • A place to connect with other families concerned about adolescent mental healthcare access in Washington State is a group called Youth Behavioral Healthcare Advocates (YBHA-WA) on Facebook. Included on the page are handouts that summarize key aspects of the new law. 

Full Article

Getting mental health help for a youth in crisis can be complicated, frustrating and frightening.

Mental Health America ranks states based on the incidence of mental illness and access to services. The agency’s 2020 rankings list Washington in the 43rd position, based on various measures that indicate a higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care.

Often a barrier to treatment is the youth, who may not be able to see a problem or want to get professional help. Parents often struggle to navigate systems that must balance a young person’s autonomy with concern that they may not be able to make good decisions because of their development, specific illness circumstances or symptoms that impact the brain.

In Washington State, the age of medical consent is 13. That means that a person 13-17 years old can independently seek medical treatment, without the consent or knowledge of parents.

Age of consent laws also have meant that Washington youth could say no to mental health or substance use treatment, regardless of whether parents and providers agreed that such treatment was necessary to protect the safety and well-being of the adolescent.

A law passed by the Washington legislature in 2019 gives parents and providers more leverage when a young person is struggling with a mental illness or substance use disorder and won’t independently engage with treatment. The law does not limit an adolescent’s ability to initiate treatment on their own.

A January 8, 2020, article in Crosscut profiles several families impacted by the new law. “Until the new law,” the article states, “parents often were shut out of their teenager’s care and treatment plans and couldn’t push a teen toward necessary outpatient or inpatient care without their consent.”

The Adolescent Behavioral Health Care Access Act enables parents/caregivers to bring a child for inpatient or outpatient treatment without requiring consent from the child, ages 13-17. The law includes elements introduced by the state Senate and House of Representatives, which originally titled the bill as HB 1874.

Passage of the law was a win for the Children’s Mental Health Work Group, which studied and reviewed recommendations from a stakeholder advisory group authorized by the 2018 legislature. The final version of the law included input from family members, youth, clinicians, hospital staff and many others who met dozens of times. A June 13, 2019, slide presentation available online provides additional history and detail about the work group and its recommendations: Family Initiated Treatment and Engaging Families in Treatment of Youth. The webinar with sound is available on YouTube.

The 2020 legislature is considering amendments to the law, and the Children’s Mental Health Work Group continues to meet to consider proposals to clarify provisions that relate to residential treatment and referrals for Wraparound with Intensive Services (WISe).

“Parent” is broadly defined

The 2019 law expands the definition of parent to include a wide range of family caregivers, guardians and others who have authority to initiate treatment. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 9A.72.085) provides standards for “subscribing to an unsworn statement” that can apply to a caregiver initiating treatment. 

Note that parents retain the right to make medical decisions for children younger than 13, and adults 18 and older are responsible for medical decision-making if there is no guardianship.

A substantive change with the 2019 law is that providers may share mental health information with parents without an adolescent’s consent, if the provider determines that information sharing with family is in the best interests of the adolescent patient. A list of information-sharing guidelines is included below.

How Family-Initiated Treatment Works

If a parent/caregiver believes that an adolescent requires mental health or substance use disorder treatment, the adult can escort the young person to an inpatient or outpatient treatment facility even if the adolescent doesn’t readily agree to go.

A provider will assess the adolescent and consider information from the family to determine whether treatment is medically necessary. An adolescent’s refusal to engage with the provider cannot be the sole basis for refusing to treat.

An inpatient facility can detain the adolescent under Family-Initiated Treatment (FIT) if medically necessary. Note: another option could be detention under the Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA), if the adolescent is determined to be gravely disabled or at imminent risk of self-harm or harm to others.

If medical necessity is found by an outpatient provider, a counselor is limited to 12 sessions over 3 months to attempt to work with the adolescent. If the young person still refuses to engage with treatment, then the period of Family-Initiated Treatment with that provider ends.

State laws continue to encourage autonomy for young people, but family engagement is encouraged. According to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 71.34.010):

 “Mental health and chemical dependency professionals shall guard against needless hospitalization and deprivations of liberty, enable treatment decisions to be made in response to clinical needs in accordance with sound professional judgment, and encourage the use of voluntary services. Mental health and chemical dependency professionals shall, whenever clinically appropriate, offer less restrictive alternatives to inpatient treatment. Additionally, all mental health care and treatment providers shall assure that minors’ parents are given an opportunity to participate in the treatment decisions for their minor children.”

Guidance for Information Sharing

Federal law, 42 CFR Part 2, restricts information sharing related to substance use, and clinicians cannot share that information without a patient’s written consent, regardless of whether the substance use co-occurs with mental illness.

Providers have discretion in determining what information about mental health diagnoses and treatment is clinically appropriate to share with parents of an adolescent 13-17. A provider retains discretion in withholding information from family/caregivers to protect an adolescent’s well-being. In general, the Adolescent Behavioral Healthcare Access Act encourages sharing information to support collaboration between the clinical setting and home. Specifically, providers and families are encouraged to discuss:

  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment Plan and Progress
  • Recommended medications, including risks, benefits, side effects, typical efficacy, dosages and schedule
  • Education about the child’s mental health condition
  • Referrals to community resources
  • Coaching on parenting or behavioral management strategies
  • Crisis prevention planning and safety planning

Information about state laws related to Behavioral Health Services for Minors is available through the Washington State Legislature website under RCW 71.34.

Information about child and youth behavioral health services in Washington State is available from the Health Care Authority (HCA).

Attention Students: Lead your own IEP meetings and take charge of your future

A Brief Overview

  • By the time you are 16 years old, the school is required to invite you to your IEP meetings. You can attend any time, and leading your own meeting is a great way to learn important skills.
  • If you need more help at school or aren’t learning what you need to learn, then your IEP might need some fixing. Your voice matters on the IEP team.
  • A website, I’m Determined.org, provides videos of students describing their goals. You can also print a goal-tracking worksheet from that website.
  • Read on to learn more about the parts of an IEP and how to get more involved in your own education.

Full Article

If you are a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), read this article to find out how you can be a leader on your IEP team. Your future is counting on you!

By the time you are 16 years old, the school is required to invite you to your IEP meetings. From that year on, your school program is matched to your long-term goals. It’s important to plan your time carefully so that every school day gets you closer to where you want to be when you are an adult. 

Learn to be a self-advocate

 An advocate (pronounced ad-vo-cut) is someone who asks for something in a public way. Public schools get money from the government, so they are considered public entities. When you ask the school to provide you with something that you need to succeed, then you are being a self-advocate.

The word advocate can also be an action word (a verb), but then it’s pronounced ad-vo-cate (rhymes with date). You advocate for yourself when you ask for what you need to succeed.

Here’s another way to use this hyphenated word: You can say that you “practice self-advocacy.” Leading your own IEP meeting is a great way to practice self-advocacy and develop important adult skills.

Your Transition Plan focuses on where you want to go

 The part of the IEP that focuses on your adult goals is called a Transition Plan. The Transition Plan is added to the IEP by the school year when you turn 16. The plan includes details about:

  • when you plan to graduate (you can stay in school through age 21 if your IEP goals require more time)
  • what jobs you might choose
  • whether college is part of your plans
  • what lifestyle you imagine for yourself (will you drive, cook, shop, live alone?)
  • how school is getting you ready for all of that

The Transition Plan is all about you and your future. You can start taking charge of your future by going to your IEP meetings. You may want to lead all or part of the meeting, and you have that right.

The law says it’s all about you

Your rights as a student with an IEP are part of a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA says that schools must include family members and students on the IEP team. If you don’t play on the team, you can’t win the game, right? This is more important than a game—it’s Your Life!

The IDEA is a unique law because it says you get what you need in order to access school and learning. Getting an education that is specially designed just for you is called an entitlement. What you are entitled to is called FAPE, which means Free Appropriate Public Education.

You can become a leader on your IEP team by learning more about FAPE and how to talk about what it means to you. Public education is free for all school-age students in the United States, but consider this question: What makes your education appropriate?

Here are some questions to help you think and talk about FAPE:

  • What is it like to have a disability?
  • What about your disability makes school hard?
  • What do you need at school that helps you learn?
  • Are you getting better and better at the skills you need to be good at?
  • Are your teachers helping you see what you do well?

If you are learning important skills at school, and your learning is helping you build on your strengths, then you are probably getting FAPE. If you need more help or aren’t learning the skills that you need to move forward, then your IEP might need some fixing. Keep in mind that the school is responsible to provide you with FAPE. You have the right to ask for FAPE.

Learn what your IEP can do for you

Here’s a starter kit to help you understand what your IEP says and how you can ask for changes. When you go to your IEP meeting, you have the right to ask the teachers and school administrators to help you read and understand your IEP.

These are some important parts of an IEP:

  • Category of Disability: This is on the “cover page” of the IEP document. It lists the type of disability that best describes why you need individualized help at school. You should know this category so you can understand how and why teachers are supposed to help you.
  • The Present Levels of Performance: This is the long section at the beginning of the IEP that describes how you are doing and what the school is helping you work on. The beginning of this section lists what you are good at. Make sure that section is complete so you can be sure the teachers help you build on your strengths.
  • Goals: When you qualified for an IEP, the school did an evaluation. You showed that you needed to learn certain things with instructions designed just for you. To help you learn, the teachers provide Specially Designed Instruction. They keep track of your progress toward specific goals in each area of learning. You can learn what your goals are and help track your progress. A website, I’m Determined.org, provides videos of students describing their goals. You can also print a goal-tracking worksheet from that website.
  • Accommodations: You can ask for what you need to help you learn in all the different classrooms and places where you spend the school day. Do you learn better if you sit in a specific part of the classroom, for example, or if you have a certain type of chair? Do you need to be able to take breaks? Do you do better on tests if you take them in a small, quiet space instead of the regular classroom? Do you need shorter assignments, so you don’t get overwhelmed? Helping your teachers know how to help you is part of your job as an IEP team member.

Get Ready for Your IEP Meeting

You can get ready for your IEP meeting by looking over the IEP document.  You may want to ask a family member or a teacher to help you read through the document. If you don’t understand what’s in your IEP, plan to ask questions at the meeting.

PAVE provides a worksheet to help you prepare for your meeting. It’s called a Student Input Form. You can use this worksheet to make a handout for the meeting or just to start thinking about things you might want to say. If you don’t want to make a handout, you might draw pictures or make a video to share your ideas.

These sentence starters might help you begin:

  • I enjoy…
  • I learn best when…
  • I’m good at…
  • It’s hard for me when…
  • I want more help in these areas…
  • I like school the most when …
  • Teachers are helpful when they…
  • I want to learn more about …
  • It would be great if…

You may want to think about your disability and how it affects your schoolwork. You could work on a sentence or draw a picture to help the teachers understand something that is hard for you. These might be the parts of a sentence that you can personalize:

  • My disability in the area of …
  • makes school difficult because…

Your handout can include a list of what you want to talk about at the meeting. Here are a few ideas, but your options are unlimited:

  • A favorite class, teacher or subject in school?
  • A time during the school day that is hard for you?
  • Your IEP goals?
  • Something that helps you feel comfortable and do well?
  • Something you want to change in your school schedule or program?
  • Graduation requirements and when you plan to graduate?
  • Your High School and Beyond Plan? (see information below)
  • Anything else that’s important to you?

High School and Beyond Plan

Maybe you started talking about what you might do after graduation when you were in middle school. Washington State public schools are required to help all students begin a High School and Beyond Plan by 8th grade. Ask a teacher, a school counselor and/or your parents if you haven’t started one of those: It’s required so you can graduate from high school.

It’s never too soon to think about what you want to do in the future. When you start building an IEP Transition Plan, it’s critical to think and talk through your ideas and how you see yourself moving forward. Here are some starter questions: 

  1. Where am I now? (strengths, interests, abilities)
  1. Where do I want to go? (aspirations, dreams, expectations)
  1. How do I get there? (goals, courses, activities, helpers, accommodations)

Here are some additional questions to help you plan:

Jobs, Trades, & Work

  • What jobs would be a good fit?
  • What training and/or supports will you need?
  • Does your IEP include community work experience?

Education after high school

  • Do your personal goals include college or technical school?
  • What accommodations will you need?
  • Have you contacted Disability Support Services on campus?

Living arrangements

  • Will you live with family, a friend or on your own?
  • How will you cook, clean, shop, & get around town?
  • Does your IEP have goals for Independent living?

Community experiences

  • What will you do for fun?
  • Will you join a club or support group?
  • How will you make friends and keep in touch?

It’s never too soon to plan ahead!

Setting goals and making some plans now will help your school and family help you make sure you’ve got the right class credits, skills training and support to make that shift out of high school easier.

Being a leader at your IEP meeting is a great way to build skills for self-advocacy and self-determination, which is another great two-part word to learn. Self-determination means you make choices to take control of your life. At your IEP meeting, you can practice describing what helps you or what makes your life hard. You get to talk about what you do well and any projects or ideas that you get excited about. In short, you get to design your education so that it supports your plans to design your own adult life.

Here are links to more ideas and tools to help you get involved in your own future planning:

The Center for Change in Transition Services has a toolkit for youth

Youthhood.org also has resources designed just for you

 

Life After High School: Helping Your Student Transition into Adult Life

Making the move from high school to what happens next can be complicated. Disability conditions may add layers to the challenges, but there are protections to ease the way. This video highlights some of the ways your family can plan for a student’s high-school transition.

Here are additional resources and key information for Washington State families:

Washington State requires all students to begin work on a High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP) by 7th or 8th grade and to continue working on the HSBP throughout high school. Various state agencies collaborated in 2019 to publish a guidebook to align the HSBP with IEP Transition Planning. Included are career-planning tools and linkages to current information about graduation pathways, which changed in 2019 when the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill (HB) 1599.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides additional guidance about High School and Beyond Planning, a template of the HSBP document, and the state’s graduation requirements on OSPI’s Website.

Another Washington agency that serves families navigating special education systems is Open Doors for Multicultural Families, which provides a guidebook to life after high school in multiple languages.

In addition to this video, PAVE provides an article, Tips to Make a Well-Informed Transition into Life After High School.