As many of you know, I teach a mostly self-contained class of students on the Autism spectrum with intellectual disabilities in a high school setting. I feel like every day that I have with my students is one day closer to them leaving my setting and getting closer to the looming TRANSITION. It is at the forefront of my mind as I plan every day. Weekly this fall, I attend transition meetings for students that are filled with joyous victories and difficult realities. In the Spring, we are preparing to have a chocked full schedule of person centered planning meetings with each of our students who are moving on from our setting. As someone who is filling my days with the transition discussion, here are my tips for others as they embark on this journey.
Begin with the End in Mind
The phrase that has stuck with me the most when I have been working on transition paperwork, supplements, and planning has been: Begin with the End in Mind. The “end” being the end of school provided special education services that drops off for most areas of the country at the age of 22. We are picturing the person that is post secondary school, pursuing a wide variety of educational, training, and work options, in addition to living a full life of personalized hobbies, fitness routines, and leisure pursuits. Then it’s just a matter of backwards chaining life from there.
Just like we would any task, we work backwards to the point where the student’s skills are now to guide our planning and goal writing. We can plan checkpoints along the way to ensure we get to where we hope to be at that “end” point. The irony in calling it the END is that it is really the beginning. The beginning of the next stage of life where their life can be tailored to their interests, needs, and personal goals.
Transition is Always Relevant
No matter what age you teach, “transition” is always relevant. Whether it is the discussion of transitioning to the next stage of school, or the transition into the real world, transition talk should always be occurring. There should never be a time that your student’s team just glazes over the topic. Most places require the discussion to formally be addressed in an IEP meeting starting at the age of 14, but I challenge each teacher and parent to start the discussion earlier to increase the complexity, creativity, and progression of that ongoing conversation.
As we all know, waiting lists all over the country for outside services average 18-20 years, so letting families know about pursuing services after graduation is vital at the earliest of ages. Ideally, your school system has a parent liaison to guide these conversations and to gather resources, but this may be left to you as the teacher.
Transition is Always Evolving
Trying to picture a child in elementary or primary school at the age of 22-25 can be challenging, but I hope that parents and teachers alike take on that challenge as an opportunity to dream for the student, an opportunity to posit the best case scenario. This discussion will inevitably evolve and change as the student progresses. Progression may not happen at the rate we hope or it may come in leaps and bounds. Either scenario changes the way we look at the future.
As the transition discussion continues, the student should be more and more involved in this discussion. For some students receiving services, they will be at the helm of this ship, completely guiding the conversation. For other students, it will more likely be a team approach where their voice is heard, but parental input is also very relevant and necessary. As this discussion evolves, be aware of the difficulty of navigating these hard topics. Professionals must be aware of the grief process involved in envisioning and continually revising the parent’s vision of the future for their child, no matter their age. Empathy is key in this situation.
Research is Key
For teachers and parents alike, research is key when it comes to the topic of transition. There are literally endless avenues that must be researched: from the laws and guidelines for your local area regarding special education services, to continued services and the numerous agencies that provide them, to the living, educational, and work environments available. Ongoing research is incredibly vital.
As a teacher, my passion for transition started in my Master’s degree program when I was tasked with researching living options for individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities in my area. I have continued this research as I attend resource fairs, Autism conferences, and connect with local agencies through my teaching positions. I still need to know SO MUCH MORE. Again, use your district or regional resources to find out where some of the legwork has already been done for you. Inevitably, though there will be a need for more intensive and specialized research with your specific students in mind.
What are you doing at your level to advance the transition discussion? Do you have stories of former students who are flourishing after their excellent planning was carried out? Pop over to my Instagram @ausometeaching and keep the discussion going!