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As parents, it’s easy to get caught up in the valleys and peaks of childrearing. It may seem like the majority of the time spent during the children’s developing years is an attempt to try to keep the flock flying forward while running interference. The busyness and chaos of the K-12 school years are filled with prescribed educational requirements, health appointments, social events, and extracurricular activities. The years fly by and suddenly it’s time for us to help our young teens move to adulthood and plan for what comes after high school, aka “transition”.  

The transition planning process shifts the role of parents from being the provider and decision maker to being the support system for your fledgling to learn to fly from the proverbial nest! This paradigm shift from lead to support as well as from a reactionary mindset to one of intentionality, can be both exciting and daunting, leaving us to feel unprepared for what lies ahead.

Fortunately, there are many resources and people in the community to help parents and teens chart their course. Parents can utilize transition resources and their teen’s self-lived experiences and knowledge to develop a solid plan for increasing independence and taking flight.

WHAT? Transition planning is part of the secondary education process. The Postsecondary Transition Plan (PTP) is a part of the IEP focused on helping students with disabilities get ready for life after high school. It takes into account the student’s individual needs, strengths, skills and interests. The PTP outlines goals which need to be accomplished and services which need to be provided in order for a student to prepare for their post high school years.

WHEN? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 04) states that every IEP developed for a 14 year old high school student in Wisconsin (16 year old nationally) must have a PTP developed and submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction within 30 days of the IEP meeting and it must be reviewed and revised as needed but at least once per year.

WHO? All transition planning meetings should include the student, family members, teachers and anyone involved in the student’s plan. This might include representatives from school-to-work transition programs, local service agencies, counseling programs, medical care providers and advocates. IEP transition plans should include goals, services and activities for the young adult.

Goals need to be measurable and focus on what happens after high school in one of three areas: 1) post secondary education – vocational training, certification, or college instruction the student needs for the jobs they want 2) employment – the types of jobs the student wants to have after high school 3) independent living skills – any areas in which the student needs to develop skills to be able to live on their own.

Once the goals are set, the IEP team will decide what services the student needs during their high school years in order to be able to meet the goals down the road. Services broadly fall into one of six categories: 1) job exploration counseling, 2) work-based learning experiences, 3) postsecondary/higher ed services, 4) social and independent living skills for home, 5) social and independent living skills for community, 6) instruction in self-advocacy.

The last component of the IEP is activities for the young adult to accomplish which will prepare them for adulthood. Examples of independent living activities which focus on increasing responsibility include: opening a bank account and managing money, shopping for groceries/preparing meals, and scheduling their own appointments. College, career and job activities would include: visiting local colleges and training schools, going on informational interviews for local internships or apprenticeships, and touring a workplace or shadowing a mentor.

In addition to school-based assistance, there are several other resources parents can look to for help in navigating the transition process. These agencies fall into 2 main types of programs: 1) transition programs and 2) vocational programs.

Transition programs offer training for students regarding employment, continuing education, independent or supported living, social and study skills, internships, career exploration, and daily living activities. 

Vocational programs are similar to transition programs but they focus more intensively on employment and finding jobs (often called vocational rehabilitation). The skills they focus on are career exploration, work-based learning or internships, training in job readiness and self-advocacy.

Madison area agencies which can be beneficial in helping with the transition process are: The Arc Dane County, Access to Independence, Department of Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Employment Resources, Inc, LOV inc (Living Our Visions inclusively), and Madison Area Rehabilitation Center.

Despite the trepidation about next steps and letting go, a multitude of resources are available. Thoughtful preparation and inclusive planning by families, schools, and community partners can support your young adult and lead to a successful future.