Transition services through special education

A particular show tune plays in my head when I think about the topic of this blog post. Can you guess which one? Hint: I’m a sucker for puns.

And you know, the words not only sound alike, they both relate to the idea of change. In “Fiddler on the Roof”, Tevye wants to hold on to the way things are and always have been – to honor tradition.  But he has to come to terms with the fact that life involves change, welcome or not.

“On the other hand” (as Tevye would say), transition services available through special education help atypical teens prepare for the changes they’ll face as they enter their 20’s. Like Tevye, the teens may not be welcoming the changes either, but transition services can lead the way to a more functional adulthood.

If you are hesitating about moving your pre-teen or teen into special education, one factor to consider is that transition services are a mandatory part of the special education package once the student is 16 years old, and can even be included in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) sooner than that. Transition services for students with disabilities are provided according to the needs of the individual. This can be a huge help, especially if you’re not already familiar with all the appropriate resources out there and how to access them. Also, the special-needs students can access the career center and guidance counselor services that are available to all high school students. 

The following two links are included to help you become more familiar with the world of transition services.

The Wrightslaw website has this thorough discussion by Barbara D. Bateman.  The following summary is extracted from Dr. Bateman’s article:

Transition services are a coordinated set of activities that promote movement from school to such post-school activities as post-secondary education, vocational training, employment, adult services, independent living and community participation. They must be based on the individual student’s needs, taking into account his or her preferences and interests. Transition services must include instruction, community experiences, and development of employment and other post school adult living objectives. If appropriate, daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation may also be included.

Secondly, for a discussion that provides basic info for parents, check this link from the Great Schools website.

A cursory Google search indicates that different states, and different school districts, have different ways of providing transition services – but however they do it, they must comply with the provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In California, special education services (including transition services) in a region are coordinated through Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs). If you have questions or concerns that aren’t being adequately addressed at the school or the district level, the SELPA for your area would be another place to turn for answers. (One of the SELPAs in our area even holds a transition fair in the spring, with local service providers answering questions and handing out literature.)

Our experience with transition was not smooth sailing. The idea of transition was probably mentioned at our first IEP meeting, when Nathan was 15 and finishing his sophomore year. Since there was a whole lot of information of more immediate concern (special day class? for emotionally disturbed students? at a different school? starting in summer school?), “transition” seemed a relatively minor point.

We learned more about transition when we went to an IEP Clinic (a free, one-hour consulation with an advocate) at TASK sometime in the following year.  The advocate told us what types of transition services the school district should be offering, and gave us a resource book.

This book has a lot of useful information, but I get a headache every time I look through it – just one of those things. I was kind of dreading having to extract information from it for this post, until I found it online as a PDF. Now you can follow the link and look through it, hopefully without needing any pain relief!

By the way, TASK also offers the following workshops, free to parents:

Transition to Adult Services

Section 504 and Transition: The Bridge from High School to Postsecondary Services

Getting and Keeping Your First Job

If you live in southern California, you may want to check these out.

At the IEP meeting at the end of Nathan’s junior year, transition services were discussed as something that would be coming up, but the main focus was on making sure he would fulfill graduation requirements. Transition-related goals in his IEP included the ability to complete a job application, and the ability to use a phone book (hey, this was a few years ago, when Internet access was not as widespread).

Nathan’s emotional health was fragile for much of his senior year, so concern about his adulthood took a back seat to focusing on how he could cope day to day.

When it got close to the midpoint of the school year, I asked his teacher (Mr F) about transition possibilities. He told me that the district’s transition resource specialist had come to the classroom in the fall, and had asked Nathan if he wanted to participate in employment-related programs, including working at a store during school hours and getting credit for it. Nathan either said “No”, or didn’t respond at all. The resource specialist did not force the issue. Neither did Mr F, because he mistakenly, and without double-checking, thought that Nathan was 18.

Now the flip side of mandatory provision of transition services for students who are 16 years old is that, at the age of 18, the student has the final decision about his education, including placement and services. So if the student is 18 and says “I don’t want any [blinkety-blank] services”, that’s the end of it – no matter what parents say or want.

Once we clarified that Nathan was only 17, I was given the contact information for the transition resource specialist. She and I had a very nice conversation – she also had a special-needs teen – but she made it clear how hostile Nathan had been to her offer. (By contrast, several of his classmates had jumped at the chance to work.) Nevertheless, she gave me paperwork to fill out so that Nathan could participate in the work program if we could get him to change his mind, as well as paperwork to apply for help from the California Department of Rehabilitation. The DOR could work with him before and after graduation to find an appropriate job.

Nathan never did change his mind about working while at school. He had a caseworker at DOR for awhile, but that experience will be discussed in later blog posts.

As for the IEP transition goals, the teacher’s aide said she had tried working a little with Nathan on job applications and the phone book, but he resisted doing much. (After graduation, I coached him as he filled out a few online applications. That process would aggravate anyone!)

To sum up, learn from our mistakes! It’s advisable to find out as much as possible about transition services early on, so your student can get the most out of them when the time comes. Because (you knew I’d fit in one last “Fiddler” reference!)  –

Sunrise, sunset

Sunrise, sunset

Swiftly fly the years …


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About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. My profession involves maps and geography. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

5 responses to “Transition services through special education”

  1. Cassie Zupke says :

    I love that you post your experiences. It’s very helpful! Thanks.


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