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Due to the amendment of the IDEA in 2004, a transition plan at age 16 is required.
Transitional education focuses on educational outcomes that children with disabilities must achieve in the future after leaving school. It should include educational activities for children with disabilities to make smooth transition from school to society. It systemizes inter-agency collaboration relationships among adult disability service organizations in the areas of post-secondary education, occupational education, employment (including supportive employment ), life-long education, adult services, independent living, and community activities before high school graduation.
A transition plan must reflect individual needs, preference, and interest. With collaboration between parents and various organizations, educational activities such as educational experience, community experience, employment plan, and life goal-setting after graduation must be conducted. Also, if necessary, daily living abilities and occupational skills must be assessed.
To sum up the Transition plan (ITP) required by U.S. law, it is:
(1) a results-focused education
(2) based on the needs and interests of an individual and his/her family
(3) a plan with an inter-agency linkage among service organizations
While attending school, all related services regarding their disabilities are provided by the school. However, after graduation, those services are provided by different governmental departments and local social service offices, and therefore parents and family members will be responsible to look for the appropriate adult service agencies on behalf of their child with special needs. It is difficult to determine where to go for what services, and the services are limited due to the complicated system. Therefore, a Transition plan creates a link between school programs and adult services starting from age 16 until age 22 before they leave school.
It is common for parents to focus on academic outcomes without considering what happens after graduation. However, children with disabilities tend to be abandoned at home with nothing to do because the focus on academics only leaves them unable to catch up with other students' academic achievement and underdevelops their potentials. Even if the Transition service is required at age 16, it is recommended that parents prepare as early as possible. Parents need to understand the significance of the Transition services and make sure to communicate closely with a special education teacher and to prepare early at home as well.
For early childhood special needs children, setting up the Special Needs Trust and networking with interested people are important. One of the most important tasks during early childhood is to develop the child’s communication skills. Sign language and gestures are good ways to communicate, as well as using symbols such as pictures and drawings. Children with severe disabilities should be closely observed to build a communication system using their body language, eye signals (glancing), and facial expressions. They should be documented in a dictionary to share with other care-givers and to teach understanding the meaning of their unique communication mode.
At elementary school age, parents must provide opportunities and experiences to identify the child's interests, strengths, and especially opportunities for making choices for independence and decision making abilities. The self-determination skill is one of the most important skills needed to function in a society.
At middle school age, educational goals should be set based on the child’s interests for the future and on problem solving skills and goal setting skills. Consider the career goal based on interests and strengths, and search for local organizations and opportunities to acquire needed skills and experiences. It is important that special needs children have independent living experience away from homes (e.g. sleep-over, summer camp).
In high school when turning 18, the special needs child becomes an adult. For children with severe developmental disabilities, someone needs to be appointed as a legal guardian . They can consult with Regional Center counselors for independent living options such as group homes , roommates, and/or apartment living. Parents can visit several living service organizations and search for one most suited for their child.
Make the best plan for future employments before leaving school. Consult with a special education teacher, and request a counselor from the Department of Rehabilitation to participate in the IEP process one year before turning the child turns 16. Also, if possible, while the child is attending school, explore opportunities for him/her to study at a community college or a 4-year university.