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Transition is More Successful with Careful, Advance Planning

My family members and I are chicken “newbs”. The chicks we bought, last February, and raised in our TV room are full-grown laying hens now and living in a coop outside. My husband and I are Chicago-area natives. We know it is possible, and even probable that snow will fall before Halloween. We know that it can be 75 degrees on one fine November day and below freezing the next. We know that “fall”, like “spring”, does not really exist in these parts as an extended period of pleasant, transitional temperatures. Even so, we were caught off guard by the prediction of a 25-degree-farenheit low a couple of Sundays ago. As a result, we spent the weekend scurrying around, frantically buying heating pads for keeping the chickens’ water supply from freezing and putting together a couple of extra hutches on our porch—a kind of chicken condo for those really cold nights.

Big changes have a way of sneaking up on us, even when we know well in advance not only that they are coming, but also a considerable amount about what they entail. One of the biggest changes in the life of your child with a disability will occur the day s/he ages out of high school, which is as late as her/his twenty-second birthday in most states and as late as her/his twenty sixth birthday in a couple of states. But even though this one day stands out as an abrupt hard stop to all the services that a “free and appropriate public education” had been providing, your child, in fact, has as long as seven years to prepare for it. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), your child’s school is required to create and follow a plan that starts as early as your child’s fourteenth year and continues through the date that s/he ages out of school. While the school may have some good ideas about what the plan should entail, it is really up to your child (with your support) to make sure first that there is a plan, and second that it has real world application.

There are an increasing number of post-secondary programs for youth with disabilities. You can find many of them listed here: If one is appropriate, make sure that teachers and/or school counselors are aware that your child may continue her/his education beyond high school. Look at the programs of study that your child may want to pursue and make sure that the academics incorporated into the transition plan move your child towards eligibility for and success in the chosen program. If your child has an interest in culinary opportunities or working in an office or working in hospitality for example, look for the prerequisites that schools offering those programs require. Most of the programs include first-year academic courses in math, writing, and other subject and the student needs to reach a level of high school academics that makes the transition to even a specialized college program realistic. Many of the programs also offer the opportunity to take general college courses, and your child should have help determining the academic skills and levels s/he will need to do that.

Many of the post-secondary programs offer the opportunity for the students to live semi-independently on campus. Even if your child does not plan on furthering her/his education, there will be a time when both you and your child expect your child (now an adult) to transition to a living situation that is more independent from you even if you may still be living in the same or proximate, physical location. Work with your child’s transition program to further your child’s skill and confidence performing critical independent living skills such as meal planning, cooking, health management and keeping a home safe and livable. It is particularly important for youth with disabilities, as for their typically developing peers, to learn about banking and money management in accessible language.

I have spoken many times in this blog about why and how work is important in the life of a person with a disability and in a successful financial plan to support that person’s future. Work brings a sense of purpose, self-worth, a place and a context in which to build relationships, a venue for enhancing skills and, of course, an income stream. Paid employment can also pay a key role in maximizing government benefits for a person with a disability. But finding a job is likely to be even harder for a young person with a disability than for a typically developing peer. If paid employment is a future goal, the young person’s transition plan must have concrete steps to work towards that goal. For example:

  • If the school offers your child the opportunity to work on campus, make sure that the skills the work requires are transferable. Some examples might be bussing tables or serving in the cafeteria or filing in the office.

  • Even better, request that your child has an opportunity to work, even if only for a couple of hours, in an off-campus placement. An important part of being successful at work is feeling comfortable in a professional environment that is NOT an extension of the familiar school environment.

  • Find out if your school has access to an internship program, such as Project Search which takes youth in their final year of transition through a yearlong program of intensive real-word internships with hospitals, hotels, zoos and other employers that may be able to offer real, paid positions.

  • Request that your state’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (or equivalent) has a representative at your child’s IEP meetings.

Coincidentally, and somewhat humorously, as soon as we completed the first major steps of our winterizing, temperatures in the greater Chicago area zoomed back up to the 70s. This gave us some breathing space since we still have a few key steps to complete before our chickens are really ready to endure a Midwestern winter. Following a substantial amount of research, brainstorming and obtaining advice from more seasoned chicken owners, we do feel now like we have a good grasp of what we need to do. But yes, we probably would have done it better, faster, and with a good deal less stress if we had taken a half-year or so to prepare. Reduce your stress as your child approaches adult life by making good use of her/his transition years and by implementing a transition plan with real-world application.

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