Building a Bright Future: Transition Planning During High School

By: Sabrina Riera, MPH & Suzi Naguib, Psy.D.

Middle school is nearly over, and high school is just around the corner. If you’re the parent of a child with special needs, this means it’s time to start planning for your child’s future.

Why should I start now?
While it might seem a little early to begin planning, it takes time to make sure all the right supports are in place for your child after they leave high school. Early and well thought-out planning also allows you to feel more at ease knowing that your child will have all the supports they need to have a smooth and successful transition into adulthood. Ideally, the process should begin when your loved one is around 13 years old; however, this process can also begin earlier, depending on your child’s needs. This will give you plenty of time to carefully make important decisions, help your child develop the skills they need to be independent, and ensure the proper supports are in place for your loved one after they leave high school.

How should I be involved?
Play an active role in your child’s transition planning! Research shows a link between parents who are actively involved in their child’s transition planning and positive outcomes for their teen with ASD.1,2,3,4 You’ll want to give plenty of input during those IEP meetings, make sure you’re involved in any major decision making, and help your child develop the skills they need to be independent. Make sure you’re also communicating with your child’s school team, counselors, psychologists, doctors and anyone else involved in their treatment to ensure proper planning is taking place.

What should I be thinking about?
There are a number of questions you will need to ask yourself as you help your child plan for life after high school. The answer to those questions vary greatly depending on the needs of your child, so you’ll want to spend some time carefully considering different options. Here are some questions you may want to consider as you start the transition planning process. While this list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, it should help kick-start your transition planning in the right direction.

What skills will my child need to learn/develop to become more independent?
From learning to cook to creating a budget, there are a number of important skills you’ll want to begin teaching your child to help them become as independent as they can be. Some areas you’ll want to focus on include daily living skills, healthcare, budgeting and finances, transportation, recreation, and employment skills.

What sorts of supports and services will my child need after they graduate? Which services do they qualify for?
What services and supports your child will benefit from the most varies greatly depending on their needs and level of functioning. There are many Medicaid funded services through Community Mental Health, including supports for daily and independent living, so it’s important to carefully investigate available resources in your area to see which ones your child qualifies for.

Will my child graduate with a high school diploma or certificate? Which track would benefit them the most?
Deciding whether your child will graduate with a high school diploma or a certificate is one of the many important decisions you’ll need to make during this transition process. There are a number of benefits for each pathway, but you’ll want to carefully consider which option is the best fit for your child. For example, for students hoping to go to college, a diploma track is most likely the best option; however, for students who would benefit from extending services through the school district after high school, a certificate track might be a better fit.

Will my child go to college or get a job after graduation? What supports will they need to succeed at work or school?
There are a number of supports and services that your child may qualify for to help them through work or college. These may include Medicaid funded supports through your state’s Department of Rehabilitation Services or services through your child’s college or university. It’s important to assess which services your child will need to succeed in the workplace or in school.

Sunfield Center is here to help
In order to ensure that your child has all the supports and services they need to succeed after high school, it’s important to seek out and take advantage of resources available in your area.

Sunfield Center psychologists are available to guide you through this transition process. Additionally, Sunfield Center offers the “Planning For Your Loved One’s Future Workshop Series” to help empower parents, guardians, and family members with information about how to better prepare for your loved one’s future. Below are the dates of this year’s upcoming workshop series:

Location: Sunfield Center, Ann Arbor.

Module 1. Building a Bright Future: Transition Planning During High School– Recommended for parents of children ages 10 and older. Date: Thursday, February 11, 2016 – Time: 5:30-7:30 pm

Module 2. Living Independently: Resources for Housing, Healthcare, & Independent Living– Recommended for parents of children ages 10 and older. Date: Thursday, March 10, 2016 – Time: 5:30- 7:30 pm

Module 3. Work, Play, and Getting Around: Resources for Transportation, Employment, & Recreation– Recommended for parents of children ages 13 and older. Date: Thursday, April 7, 2016 – Time: 5:30-7:30 pm

Module 4. Securing My Loved One’s Future: Finances & Legal Safeguards– Recommended for parents of children of all ages. Date: Thursday, May 5, 2016 – Time: 5:30-7:30 pm

Module 5. Off to College: Preparing for Higher Education– Recommended for parents of children 13 and older. Date: Thursday, May 26, 2016 – Time: 5:30-7:30 pm

Follow this link for more information on each of our workshops, including information on registration and fees.

1. Ankeny, E.M., Wilkins, J., & Spain, J. (2009). Mothers’ experiences of transition planning for their children with disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 41, 28-36.

2. Beamish, W., Meadows, D., & Davies, M. (2010). Benchmarking Teacher Practice in Queensland Transition Programs for Youth With Intellectual Disability and Autism. The Journal of Special Education, 45, 227-241.

3. Defur, S.H., Todd-Allen, M., & Getzel, E.E. (2001). Parent participation in the transition planning process. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 24, 19-36.

4. Kraemer, B.R., & Blacher, J. (2001). Transition for young adults with severe mental retardation: School preparation, parent expectations, and family involvement. Mental Retardation, 39, 423-435.