If you are a parent of a child with special needs, you have likely wondered (and worried) about your child’s ability to successfully navigate the demands of adulthood independently. One of the most important tools that a parent has to help prepare their child for independence is the appropriate implementation of “transition services” in their child’s IEP.

According to the IDEA, transition services are supposed to consist of a coordinated set of activities that are:

designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.

Transition service planning must take into account the individual student’s interests, strengths and preferences, and may include any or all of the following:

  1. instruction;
  2. related services;
  3. community experiences;
  4. the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives; and
  5. if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and provision of a functional vocational evaluation.

As you can see, transition service planning is broadly defined and can consist of a wide range of services and supports.  Like IEP planning, the creation of a transition service plan will be highly dependent on the unique needs of each individual student.

In Massachusetts, IEP Teams must begin transition planning when a student is 14 years or older.

Typically a school district will, with parental consent, conduct appropriate evaluations in order to assess a student’s transition needs. Transition assessments should be tailored to assess each student’s unique profile. Frequently these evaluations will include assessments related to training, education, employment, and independent living skills. Once transition assessments have been completed – and the Team has considered the individual student’s preferences, parental input and any private testing – the Team should be able to identify which skills the student needs to develop in order to achieve greater independence, and then develop a service plan designed to target these skills.  School districts are required to meet the FAPE standard when offering transition services.

Once appropriate evaluations have been performed, and the student’s preferences and interests have been considered, the Team must create an IEP that includes “[a]ppropriate measurable post-secondary goals” and that contains a specific plan that describes how the student will meet those goals. Transition planning is not limited to academic skills!  Transition planning is about independence – therefore the Team should also consider, when appropriate, student’s vocational goals, daily living skills, ability to access the community, social skills, and any other specific skill the student may need to achieve greater independence as an adult.

In Massachusetts, IEP Teams must also complete a Transition Planning Form (TPF) for all students with disabilities who are 14 years of age or older. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has issued two helpful advisories (one in 2009 and one in 2012) concerning TPFs and transition planning that are worth reviewing if you are helping to develop a transition plan for your child.

Transition planning is a fluid process. As students grow and mature they may change their post-secondary goals or new areas of need may emerge. IEPs and TPFs should never remain stagnant during high school, but rather should be carefully reviewed and revised at least once each year to ensure that a student’s educational program is adequately addressing their changing transition needs.

Students can receive transition services until they either graduate from high school, or if they do not receive a diploma, through the age of 22. Parents should be aware that some students may still be eligible to receive transition services after high school even if they meet the criteria for graduation (for example, a student with high cognitive abilities and Autism may be able to meet the academic criteria needed to receive a diploma, but still may require transition services to address daily living skills and executive function skills).

If you think your child will need additional services, regardless of whether they have met the criteria for graduation, it is a good idea to raise this issue with the Team well before the end of your child’s senior year. This will allow everyone time to conduct assessments and consider the student’s needs carefully. If you have questions about your child’s transition services plan, contact Moor Law to learn more about your child’s rights and your legal options.