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Students With Special Needs: Transitioning to Adulthood

Counselor and student working on computer

The transition to adulthood refers to activities to prepare students with special needs for adult life based on what is appropriate for the student given their interests, skills and needs.

  • Transition planning typically begins at age 14 and involves helping the student plan their course of study.
  • Transition services, or the planning for transitioning to adulthood for a student with an Individualized Education Program, must begin by age 16, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Students set measurable goals that they work towards until they finish high school. Once students graduate or leave the school system, there is no guaranteed program for them to enter.

Explore all options

During transition planning, students identify their education and career goals so they can work towards those goals through high school. If your teen is uncertain about their goals, they may want to talk to a career counselor and take career aptitude assessments to narrow their choice and focus. Depending on their interests and abilities, your teen may consider one of these options for transitioning to adulthood. By enrolling in targeted coursework, gaining work experience or learning trade skills through vocational rehabilitation, your student can clarify their ambitions for adulthood.

Start the planning conversation early and enlist others who know your child. This might be teachers, counselors, installation school liaisons, EFMP Family Support providers or Military OneSource special needs consultants. Work with your child and the team to create a plan to help your student achieve their goals.

Expand your support network

As your child continues through school, broaden your network of support and find additional ways to ease your child’s transition to adulthood. Learn more and make additional connections using these resources:

  • Reach out to your school liaison, who may be able to help you understand graduation requirements, enrollment dates, credit transfers and work with the district and your family to solve any problems that may arise.
  • Visit the Education Directory for Children With Special Needs: School-Age Directory (3-21). Locate your state or the state where you need services and find the secondary transition link to access information, contacts, resources and services on transitioning to adulthood for that state.
  • Locate your state’s Parent Training and Information Center, which is federally funded by the Department of Education, for information and resources available in your state.
  • Connect with the Office of Disability Services on campus if your child plans to go to a 2- or 4-year college or university. Typically, colleges provide the requirements and instructions for receiving disability services on their website. Follow the procedures and speak with the office to get registered properly to order to receive accommodations.
  • Learn about and establish secondary dependency of an adult family member to ensure your child can continue to receive military benefits and privileges, if eligible.

Learn to self-advocate

Another important step in the transition to adulthood is learning to self-advocate. Provide your teen suggestions and opportunities to build self-advocacy skills:

  • Educate your teen about their rights under IDEA and make sure they recognize those rights may change upon graduation. Invite them to attend IEP meetings and if appropriate, suggest they articulate their strengths and weaknesses and discuss the accommodations they need.
  • Encourage them to share information about their disability with friends, educators and potential employers if useful and if they feel comfortable. They may find it helpful if you practice that conversation with them beforehand.
  • Suggest they check into job programs at school to find a job or volunteer position to gain skills, experience and learn to work with others. If they earn a salary, it’s an excellent time to start the budget discussion.
  • Review Section 504: Eligibility and Employment Provisions and 504 Plan Versus IEP Overview so your teen will understand that schools and employers are required to supply reasonable accommodations to students and employees with special needs.
  • Support their independence as they begin working, volunteering or socializing. It may be tough to let go, but give them the freedom to grow, learn new skills and expand their perspective. Be interested and present if and when they want to discuss successes, frustrations or challenges.
  • Watch this video with your teen and talk about their reaction after hearing another teen reflect on how she learned to self-advocate, make decisions and prepare for transition to adulthood.

Every child is an individual with different needs, challenges and dreams. There is not a one size fits all solution for transition to adulthood. Use the EFMP & Me checklists for Adult and Continuing Education and Transitioning to Adulthood to stay on track and view the Post-Secondary Transition training module for ideas and information. Explore all options, build a support network and encourage self-advocacy as you work with your child to create the foundation for their successful transition.

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