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The newest special education teachers learn that the year in which a student turns 14 years of age, the IEP must include provisions related to transition. By age 16, the Transition IEP establishes a pattern of preparation for post-school plans. This may involve preparation for college, training or work. Many parents are unaware of available services, thinking that seven years is a long time away. As a teacher, you can help parents remember how quickly the past seven years have passed and that their child will need assistance to transition from school to adult life. Planning is not a one-time event and deserves time and attention to assure the smoothest possible transition for your student when leaving the school system. While this list is not comprehensive, perhaps these ideas will help you as an educator in your role at this pivotal time of planning in the lives of your students.
Organize a Portfolio of Resources
Check with your liaison for a list of local agencies, programs and contacts for services. The more you know what is available in your town, county and state, the more you will be prepared to engage your students and their families in identifying appropriate services.
Never Too Early
With so many issues that have faced your students since the onset of their special needs, your families may have been preoccupied with just getting through each day. For any number of reasons, some families do not seek information in the early school years. So if you have colleagues who are teaching younger students, share your information about resources and services that might be helpful to students and their families. Many high school special educators are flabbergasted that students and parents have not applied for Social Security Income or are unaware of services (some of which have multi-year waiting lists just to get an application processed!) that could support the students’ needs. Think of it this way, parents often ask their children without special needs, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” So why not have the same long-range thinking for students who need extra support? Likewise, for students moving in to the high school age group, the question needs to be addressed all the more because time passes quickly.
Aside from IEP, 504 and other legal documents that your students need each year, you can help your students and their families by creating a checklist of the types of personal documents that your students may wish to keep at the ready. Consider the convenience of students having a folder or notebook that contains such items as letters of reference, a copy of the diploma, vocational assessments, contacts for relationships with agency personnel currently engaged, summary of health history and medical providers, copy of birth and passport records, emergency and family contacts, school records that include transcripts and summaries of performance, a video resume or vocational skills demonstration, copies of recent IEPs and other relevant information, such as copies of trusts, guardianship and other authorizations. Centralizing information related to school and post-school planning will be very helpful to your students and their families.
Develop Your Own Team
Get to know the service providers at your own school or district. Perhaps you do not have a student who currently needs physical therapy; introduce yourself and learn about the roles of your specialists. This will prepare you for future students, build rapport within your school and district, and support your multi-disciplinary perspective. These specialists have insights into transition planning that you may not encounter otherwise. Talk with your school administration and liaisons to learn what their understandings and vision are for your students. Make it a point to meet or communicate with other district staff, such as job coaches and program supervisors, who focus on transition planning as well. Teachers who make this kind of effort are in a better position to garner the latest information for their students.
Certainly take trainings that directly relate to your older students. However, there may be additional opportunities to develop your general knowledge as you meet folks who conduct trainings in your school district. They may be able to introduce you to other professionals with similar goals to yours. Join your professional organization(s) and participate in their programs – the more you know and the more contacts you have, the better you can serve your students. Be a lifelong learner!
You already have an awareness of these and other ideas to serve your students. Think about how effectively you communicate your knowledge and how you can use it more efficiently in the classroom.