Although “transition” describes the process of moving from one phase to another, in special education it often refers specifically to the period of time when your teenager is preparing for adult life after leaving public school. A number of activities need to take place during this transition.

Transition: When Does It Start?

For children who are visually impaired, the transition process has to be planned and included in their Individualized Education Program (IEP) not later than the IEP in effect when they turn 16. It has to be updated annually thereafter. If your child has multiple disabilities or complex needs, the process may start earlier to give him added time to get ready for the transition to independent living.

What’s Supposed to Happen?

Your child’s educational team—your teenager, you, the school staff, and related service providers—is expected to decide what services your child needs and to structure a program based on those services. For example:

  • Special classes or training
  • Community-based experiences
  • Information about available sources of post-high school help
  • Expanded orientation and mobility training

The goal is to enable your child to be successful in whatever plans he wants to pursue after high school—vocational training, work, college, or living independently in an apartment or group home. There’s no prescribed list of services that your teenager’s school must provide—these services are specific to each student’s IEP, based on an assessment of his abilities, needs, and life goals. A formal document, called a transition IEP, lists those services and goals.

Who’s Responsible for What?

Your teenager’s educational team is responsible for overseeing his educational program, which may include:

  • Instruction in basic academic courses—English, math, science, geography, and social studies
  • Training in disability-specific skills—skills and adaptive techniques that your child needs to develop because of his visual impairment to enable him to participate in academic learning and to live independently

These disability-specific skills are taught as part of what is referred to as the expanded core curriculum for students with visual impairments. Included is instruction, as needed, in reading and writing with braille, using optical devices, orientation and mobility (O&M), social skills, independent living skills, career education, assistive technology, recreation and leisure activities, visual and sensory efficiency, and self-determination. The school staff is also responsible for evaluating your teenager’s progress in these areas.

During the transition process, students are responsible for their own life plan unless they have cognitive or other impairments that prevent them from doing so. While your teenager is still in school, this means selecting courses that will prepare him to pursue goals such as going to college or working in a particular job field. It means that your child will need to consider factors such as:

  • What he’s good at doing
  • What he likes to do
  • What he values—such as health, security, fame, family, friends, independence
  • Whether his abilities and values are a good match for the jobs that interest him

The Value of Work Experience

While your teenager is still in school and living at home, you may want to encourage him to get some work experience. Both volunteer and paid jobs can be helpful training for future work. It’s important for him to talk about his goals at IEP meetings so that his preferences drive the transition planning process.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), families are active members of the educational team. You, as parents or guardians, are expected to attend and participate in the IEP meetings, including the meetings that establish your son’s transition services plan. As part of this process, you need to share your expectations and concerns with your teenager and the educational staff.

Other organizations, such as public and private vocational rehabilitation agencies that provide services for people with visual impairments or developmental disabilities typically participate in a student’s transition plan. The faculty and staff at your child’s school can help you and your child identify and become connected with agencies in the community that can provide needed academic, vocational, social, or daily living services after your teenager graduates from or leaves high school. These agencies can provide information about their services and make those services available when they are hired to do so. Overall, through discussion and planning, transition can form a critical bridge to adult life.