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Helping Your Teenager With Special Needs Prepare for the Future


Parents want to help their teenagers reach their full potential as independent, productive adults. The transition plan, part of your child's Individual Education Plan (IEP), can help. There are different times when your family and professionals need to ensure they are using all means available to provide access to health care, education, rehabilitation services, and income benefits for your child:

  • Age sixteen. Your child's IEP must include a statement of needed transition services beginning at age sixteen or, as appropriate, younger. Transition services are a coordinated set of activities that promote movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational training, integrated employment, adult services, independent living, or community participation. The Social Security Administration (SSA) refers Supplemental Security Income (SSI)-eligible individuals to the state vocational rehabilitation agency starting at age sixteen.
  • Age eighteen. In the SSI program, the financial eligibility of young adults is based solely on their own income and resources. SSI-eligible children must have a new disability determination under the adult eligibility rules in the month before turning eighteen. Some state Title V programs only serve individuals under eighteen. States may also offer health benefits through age eighteen using the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). States can use CHIP to expand Medicaid coverage, develop a separate program, or combine the two approaches to cover uninsured children with family incomes too high for Medicaid, but too low to afford private insurance. Beginning at least one year before children reach the age of majority under state law, their IEP must reflect that they have been informed of their rights under the law that will transfer to them as adults. The age of majority varies by state but generally occurs between eighteen and twenty-one.
  • Age twenty one. Most state Title V programs serve young people until they reach age twenty-one. Early and periodic screening, diagnostic, and treatment (EPSDT) services must be provided to Medicaid-eligible individuals until they reach age twenty-one.
  • Age twenty-two. Federal law requires that special education services be available through age twenty-one. Your child's needs must be stated in the IEP and should include opportunities for community-based instruction and other adult objectives. However, some states interpret the law to stop special education services at age eighteen for students who graduate without receiving a regular high school diploma. In the SSI program, certain individuals under the age of twenty-two can use a student earned income (SEI) exclusion.

Your teenager may be able to play an important role in his or her transition plan. These tips can help keep your teenager interested:

  • Ask what he/she wants to do when school is completed. Is it realistic? If not, can you make a compromise? For example, perhaps finding other ways to work in a veterinary office or animal hospital is an option for a teen who would like to become a veterinarian.
  • Include your teenager in the planning process. Let your teenager help come up with goals for the last years of high school. You can also help research options and services that might be available. Start early and keep the student included throughout the process.
  • Teach self-advocacy. Help your teenager learn to ask for assistance and accommodations in educational and workplace settings. Teach your child how to contact local public and private advocacy groups for adults with disabilities.
  • Encourage your teenager to attend meetings. Whether it's an IEP meeting or a meeting with a community agency, your teenager's contribution is important. If someone knows his/her ideas will be taken seriously, that person is often more motivated to participate.
  • Help your teenager understand his or her disability. Knowing one's strengths, as well as weaknesses, will help your teen take a more active role in planning for the future.

For even more support and information, you can contact Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647 and ask to speak with an EFMP Specialty Consultant. You should also reach out to the EFMP at your installation.


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