Elementary and Secondary School Part 2Planning and Funding Your Child’s Education—Elementary and Secondary School Part 2

Transition Planning—Guiding Your Child through Elementary School, Middle School, and High School

Transitions—changes in routines—are a part of life. They occur when you get a new job, get married, start a business, have children, and retire. Changes to routine bring stress. For your child with special needs, they might bring on stress difficult to bear. Your child may experience many changes in routine over time, but three significant ones addressed by transition planning occur as your child moves from:

  • Early childhood intervention to elementary school.
  • Elementary school to middle school.
  • Middle school to high school.

From your child’s early intervention program through high school graduation, you will attend many meetings with education professionals to create transition plans that help your child adjust to these significant changes in environment, academic expectations, and relationships. Transition services at the high school level are intended to prepare youth to for further education, to reach their career goals, and to actively participate in their community, and are based on your child’s strengths, needs, and vision for the future. They include:

  • Instruction
  • Community participation
  • Developing employment skills
  • Developing daily living skills
  • Prepare for post-secondary education

Your child can become part of transition planning at any time, both formally at school and informally during discussions about it at home. By encouraging your child’s involvement in transition planning early on, he or she can get a jump on developing self-advocacy and self-determination skills. When your child turns 16 years of age, public schools must invite students to attend meetings and, by law, make transition planning part of your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The ultimate goal of transition planning is to provide your child with choices that will lead him or her to a productive, fulfilling, and independent adult life, to the greatest extent possible. 

Transition Planning—Elementary School

Making your child’s experiences in elementary school as positive as possible might ease change-related stress. Positive school experiences will also provide your child with a strong foundation for overall school success. Here are some things you can to do help create positive school experiences for your child in elementary school.  

  • Develop a positive and productive relationship with school staff and teachers.
  • Stay connected to your child’s progress in school; try to know when the time is right to push, or the time to let your child just be.
  • Expect the best. Your child may become inspired to rise to it.
  • Take care that your child has accommodations that will best support their academic and developmental achievement. Proper accommodations will also ensure your child’s knowledge is accurately measured.

(see Laura Ann Oliver, Michelle Detweiler, Karra Barber. “Tips for Transitioning into Elementary School.” MyChildWithoutLimits.org. Retrieved from http://www.mychildwithoutlimits.org/?page=transitioning-into-elementary-school on September 11, 2010, and “High expectations, appropriate testing accommodations can benefit your child.” Pacesetter—Summer 2010. PACER Center. )

Transition Planning—Middle School and High School: Creating a Path to Self-Advocacy

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that your child’s IEP team assemble a formal transition plan when he or she turns 16. The transition plan includes what instruction, skills, services, and accommodations your child needs to accomplish personal, academic, vocational, and career goals after graduating from high school. 

Letting Go

By engaging your child early on in decision-making for a variety of life situations—vacations, purchases, accommodations, medical care, his or her IEP — you help ensure that by the time your child reaches the age of majority, he or she will be making decisions that improve the well-being of his or her life. Of course you’ll be there to provide support and guidance as you always have, but by gently letting go of your decision-making authority and allowing your child the opportunity to make decisions, your child gets to learn the value of making informed decisions (or not!). Some of life's most lasting lessons are learned from making mistakes.

Creating a Vision for the Future

Upon turning 16, your child will need to communicate a vision for the future to his or her IEP team. This vision will help form the basis of your child’s transition plan for the remainder of high school and beyond. To help your child develop a vision for the future, the IEP team may ask your child questions similar to these:

  • What skills do you think are your best?
  • What skills do you think need some improvement?
  • What do you want to do after you graduate from high school?
  • Where do you want to live?
  • Do you want to live alone or with roommates?
  • Do you know what accommodations you’ll need to live independently?
  • What kind of work would you like to do?
  • Do you know how much additional education that would require?
  • What are some of your dreams outside of your employment, such as travel, friendships, or community involvement?

Your child’s answers to these questions help define what supports and skills your child needs for a successful and fulfilling life beyond high school. Encouraging your child to begin creating a vision for the future upon entering the 8th grade might ease transitions into high school and then beyond.

The more he or she participates in transition planning, the more likely your child’s expectations of the future will be met. The more likely, too, your child will have opportunities to gain experience in making decisions and taking action. For example, an IEP specifying that your child spend time making trips to and from a job or post-secondary school using public transportation may demonstrate to your child what skills he or she needs to develop to confidently use public transportation.

What You Need to Know—The Age of Majority

We know from our own experiences that life beyond high school is quite different. Legally, the biggest differentiator is that when your child reaches the age of 18, he or she reaches the age of majority in most states. Likely, this will be a liberating time for your child. It’s also a time your child becomes responsible for making his or her own informed decisions in all areas of life, including the IEP. In order for your child to remain eligible for the transition services that are part of his or her IEP, your child must stay in school through graduation.

Legal Rights. When students reach the age of majority and are deemed competent, they have the legal right to make their own decisions about their IEP. When your child acquires this right, he or she becomes responsible for:

  • Attending IEP meetings.

  • If necessary, approving (or consenting to) re-evaluations and changes in placement.

  • Requesting mediation or a legal hearing to resolve disputes over IEPs, re-evaluations, and placement.

Speak with your child’s IEP team to find out what your state’s laws are around the age of majority.

In the PACER Parent Brief, “Age of Majority,” the risk in transferring to your child the decision-making rights over Individual Education Plans (IEPs) is conveyed with this question: Will your child decide to drop out of high school or accept a quick diploma and become ineligible for much-needed transition services?Keeping your child legally eligible for transition services should be part of your estate plan because transition services can play a big role in moving your child toward a fulfilling and independent life beyond high school. To learn more about your child’s responsibilities upon reaching the age of majority and how to help your child stay on-track for high school graduation and decision-making success, request a copy of the PACER Parent Brief, “Age of Majority”:

Call 1-888-248-0822 (Voice) or 1-952-838-0190 (TTY)
Visit www.pacer.org and search on the name of the publication
PACER Center, Inc.8161 Normandale Blvd.
Bloomington, MN 55437