Transition from school to adult life is an exciting time that is filled with the promise of youthful hopes and dreams. It is also full of uncertainty and turmoil. All students must wrestle with issues such as where to live, whether to work or go to college, and what to do for fun. These decisions are hard for everyone but can be more difficult for students with disabilities. Some students may not have had practice in making decisions, trying new things, or independently seeking assistance. Encouraging students to take the lead in the transition process enables them to develop the decision-making and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in adult life.
Transition from school to adult life is not the only important change that people experience in their lives. If you think back to the last major decision you made (for instance, changing jobs, deciding to marry or divorce, deciding to have children or not, or moving), it affected many areas of your life. Transitions involve the work one does, where and with whom one lives, what one does during one's leisure time, and the type of learning, training, and experiences one may need or want.
Learning how to plan for transitions before leaving school is a useful skill for all students, now and in the future. Teaching students how to weigh choices and make decisions is a crucial practice that will ultimately assist them to live more interdependent and fulfilling lives.
To achieve a transition into adulthood that will fulfill students' dreams and visions requires committed action from many participants. Transition, as described in this manual, is an outcome-oriented process that calls for the collaboration of many individuals and results in the student taking control of his/her own life. The planning process belongs to the student; it is, after all, his/her life. The student charts the direction and it is up to others involved to ensure that the student has the skills or supports necessary to make decisions, learn from mistakes, and celebrate successes.
Transition means different things to different people. Outcomes may include having a place to live, friends with whom to "hang out," a lover, a job, community involvement, and a means of financially supporting oneself. From a very early age, students must be encouraged to dream, to explore various ideas, to take chances. Their decisions must be supported and nurtured by families, friends, teachers, and other professionals.
Successful transition is a cooperative process that involves student choice, parent involvement, informal supports, and use of community resources, as well as more formal procedures and interagency collaboration. Recent trends on both the state and national levels encourage this kind of integrated, cooperative approach. Initiatives related to the overall improvement of education include school reform, School-to-Work, Goals-2000, family and school partnerships, school and business partnerships, and the development of inclusive schools. Linking these initiatives together can reallocate resources, create a forum for sharing a broad range of expertise, and help bridge the gap between regular and special education. This process ultimately results in mobilizing the entire community to build the capacity of the local school to address the transition needs of all students.
Family Members: The transition from school life to adult life for one's child can be anxiety-ridden. Parents need information, resources, and lots of examples of students who have entered into adult life in positive ways that contribute to families and the community. They may need to know that supports will be in place for their child so they can hand over some of their responsibilities. They may also need support to deal with their feelings about their child growing up. Family members are rich resources of knowledge; their ideas, opinions, and dreams are vital considerations in a student's transition process.
Teachers: Teachers and other education professionals need support and access to get information about resources and state-of-the-art planning strategies. They also need encouragement to carry out progressive educational practices with their students. Providing access, resources, and supports for students and their families is a crucial role in the transition process. Teachers can be catalysts for action and support providers as families tackle the emotional process of planning for the future.
Human Service Agencies: Community-based professionals such as the local Arc and vocational service provider are aware of the needs and resources of the community (e.g., job demand/supply) and of adults with disabilities within that community. They can assist through passing on information relevant to the community and by building supportive partnerships and relationships with schools, individuals with disabilities, local businesses, recreation providers, public and human services, and the local political base.
Everyone: Being familiar with federal and state laws and procedures
may facilitate a smoother transition process. Knowing about existing programs
and services may help as well. However, to plan for an individualized and
creative transition in which individuals can become truly included in their
community, students, parents, teachers, and community-based professionals
must depend on more than the law and existing service slots.
So how do we get the skeptics to take a leap of faith into new ways
of planning for transition? Some will never be convinced to share your
enthusiasm. However, you can sometimes gain their trust by setting an example.
By working toward goals that create positive outcomes and by offering assistance
when it is needed, you can slowly show doubters that new ideas can work.
You might try:
In addition, when a student in transition takes on a leadership role
in the process, seeking assistance to overcome barriers and finding
creative solutions to assist in reaching his/her outcomes, the student
is more likely to achieve his/her desired goals.
Finally, planning for the future, almost by definition, is a flexible process. New opportunities arise. People learn, grow, and change their minds. Dreams change. Transition planning must be tailored to the individual student. It must be based on dreamsnot limited to existing services. If only services that already exist are considered, it becomes difficult to support individual choices. If the services for the four people in the scenarios described earlier were to be based only on what is currently available, some of their dreams would very likely not be realized.
We all try to plan or at least prepare for the major events in our lives.
We require varying amounts of support to achieve our dreams and shape our
lives in meaningful ways. People who are young, inexperienced in decision
making, overly dependent, or who have disabilities, may need assistance
to learn effective ways to plan. Now is the time to begin.