Planning for Your Special Child’s Future: It’s Never “Too Early” to Start!
Planning for your Special Child’s Future: It’s never “too early” to start!
As administrators of two transition programs, we are often asked by parents “How can I best help my child transition to postsecondary education?” Or “when should I start working with my child on preparing to go to college or vocational training?” A variation on this theme is when we meet parents of young children with disabilities, and they remark to us, “Oh, we don’t need to talk to you yet. Our kids are really young.” A child is never “too young” when thinking about or planning for his or her future and optimizing their chances of having a smooth transition to postsecondary education.
10 Tips on Preparing Your Special Needs Child for the Transition to Postsecondary Education
(1) “Work backward, but always look forward.” What can you realistically envision your child doing after he or she graduates from high school or has aged out of IDEA funding? If it is, indeed, pursuing a college degree and living away from home, image all of the independent living, social and vocational skills, he or she will need on top of the academic skills necessary to successfully complete a degree. Many higher functioning individuals on the autism spectrum have the intellectual ability to pursue a degree but need assistance with and intervention in learning the social and independent living skills necessary to live away at college. Work backward from that image and start teaching the building blocks of the more complex skills incrementally.
(2) Start teaching independent living skills and social skills at an early age. Pick skills that are developmentally appropriate (e.g. early elementary-aged students can put laundry in dirty clothes hamper; later elementary school students can learn to get themselves up using an alarm clock; junior high/high school students can learn to wash their own clothes).
Related: Inclusive College Guide. College Closer Than You Think
(3) Have your child periodically assessed to measure progress and document areas of disability. Include assessments of, not only, I.Q. and academic achievement, but adaptive behavior as well. Some individuals may have I.Q. scores above 70 (which is often the traditional cut off for services or entitlements), but still, have a developmental disability based upon their scores on assessments of adaptive functioning such as the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale.
(4) Keep copies of all evaluations in a safe place that is easily accessible. Do not give away the original or your last copy. Treat these records like gold. They can be used to document a history of disability and help establish entitlement to state services, or in a college or work setting, help provide the groundwork for establishing “reasonable accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Related: Drowning in Paperwork? Here’s What Helps Us
(5) Learn as much as you can about special education, disabilities law, and entitlements before your child reaches high school age. Know what your rights are. Know the definition of transition services; the time tables for setting transition goals & plans; and what constitutes a “good” transition plan. Visit web sites like www.wrightslaw.com to learn more.
Related: The Politics of Special Education: The Information You Need Right Now
(6) Teach your child self-advocacy skills. There is no special education in college. They must be “otherwise qualified” to attend college and gain admission just like any other student. However, under the ADA, the student must be able to articulate what his or her disability is; what reasonable accommodations he or she might need; and present the appropriate supporting documentation. Mom or Dad cannot do this for them. Attending their own Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings starting early in high school is a great way to practice.
(7) Give opportunities to gain independence. As the child is developmentally ready, have them sleep over one night at a friend’s house or go to sleep away camp. As they get older and are nearing the end of high school, send them to a college preview summer program. There are ones for general education students, as well as ones designed for students with disabilities. It is a great way to gauge the student’s ability to go away to college.
(8) Vocational Certificate Programs are excellent pathways to employment that are often overlooked by many parents. Coursework is more practically oriented and less theoretical in nature. There a wide variety of offerings to be had. Certificates are available in traditional fields such as automotive repair, plumbing, carpentry, cosmetology etc., but also in computer repair, programming, & networking; small animal care; and personal fitness training.
(9) Consider a Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) program if you are unsure if your student will be successful at a four year college or if you are unsure if a vocational certificate is a better path to the world of work and independent living for your child.
(10) Visit the programs or colleges during an open house as a family. Engage your child in the decision making process. No matter how great you may think a college or program is, ultimately it is your son or daughter that has to commit to going there and completing the training. Having them own the decision to attend a program increases the chances of successful completion.
Ernst VanBergeijk is the Associate Dean and Executive Director, and Paul Cavanagh, is the Director of Academics and Evaluation, at New York Institute of Technology Vocational Independence Program (VIP). The Vocational Independence Program is a U.S. Department of Education approved Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) program. www.nyit.edu/vip. The authors also administer Introduction to Independence (I to I) a seven week summer college preview program for students ages 16 and up.
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This post originally appeared on our November/December 2012 Magazine