You've heard that young adults with disabilities are attending college more than ever, but before you run head long into the ivory tower, there are some things you need to do.
First, let's look at the definition of transition planning from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Generally, transition planning begins when your child reaches 14-16 years of age. According to the IDEA, the definition of transition services is a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability designed to be a results-oriented process, 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 based on the individual child's needs, taking into account the child's strengths, preferences and interests.
That's a really long sentence, but what does this mean for you and your son or daughter? The first steps are questions that need to be answered before the transition services plan can be created. Here are a few: 1) what does your child want to do to? Does your child know what they want to study? 2) If they want to go to college, do they know where and what are the entrance requirements? 3) What is your child's current academic level? 4) What are your child's strengths? 5) Do they know their responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act? 6) Is the student able to speak up and effectively communicate their needs?
Where to start?
Take time to review the entrance/program requirements for any college your child is considering. Colleges are not required to waive any entrance/program requirements, but are required to provide equal access to educational opportunities; this is different from the K-12 environment.
Elementary and secondary schools are obligated to ensure free and appropriate education to each student.
Next, it is important to carefully review your child's current academic progress and directly compare it to the entrance/program requirements of any college in consideration.
The transition service plan contained within the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is to address the distance between where your child is now and where they need to be; both academically and functionally.
A skills and interest profile, generally given by the high school, will help to better define your child's strengths and potential areas of interest. There are additional formal transitions tests available, so it is helpful to sit down with the school as the district may have a preferred test.
What else is important to be aware of, to plan for?
Additionally, your student will need to possess an understanding of their rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
He or she will need to meet any and all entrance/program requirements. The willingness and ability to self-advocate, speak up for his or her needs is another critical skill like listening and asking questions.
Once out of high school, your child is considered an adult, as such, they are responsible for speaking up for their needs. Under the ADA colleges can and do require specific diagnostic documentation for specific disabilities.
This documentation generally needs to be 3 years old or less and does not include your child's IEP. Your student will need to contact the college's Disability Services Offices (DSO) and self-identify, make the DSO aware of their needs. The DSO will respond by requesting specific diagnostic documentation.
Once you know what is required, it is up to you and your child to obtain any needed testing. It is the student's responsibility to provide the documentation to the college in a timely manner; the college is not involved in this part of the process.
Keep in mind that the DSO and college staff will only talk with parents after the student has signed release of information paperwork.
Also, expect the process of working with the DSO to take anywhere from two to three weeks, to months.
Keep in mind that the conversations with the DSO and the planning for the transition services plan will begin, roughly, at the same time.
What accommodations and modifications can my child expect to receive in college?
While some accommodations may be similar, some may or may not exist at the college you are applying to. Or they may exist in a slightly different format.
Extended time on tests is an example of post-secondary accommodations. Students with or without disabilities will take the same test, those approved for extended time may have extra or unlimited time (within reason) to take their test.
Also extended deadlines or shortened assignments may not be feasible, even though that modification was available to the student in high school.
The most successful students are those committed to their success.
Those students able to speak up for their needs and those willing to seek out help or forms of assistance, such as tutoring, are more likely to succeed. Most colleges have tutoring available, some offer it for free, and some ask have a fee.
All the information you have gathered; the skills, abilities and weaknesses, the transitions testing results, current academic and functional levels, and the entrance requirements, will all become part of your child's transition services plan.
Once the plan has been created the next three to five years will be spent preparing you and your child for the transition to college life. This next phase will be exciting and challenging for both of you.
Remember all of the planning and preparations are to help your young adult to become capable of living and acting, to some degree, on their own.
The greatest gift a parent can give their child, with or without a disability, is the ability to be independent. One of the hardest things for any parent to do is to let go, but you will have to. And in doing so, will give your child the chance to shine.
• Resident Kelly McGuire has four kids, one with autism. She is founder and director of Az Transitions, a full-service advocacy group for Pre-K through 12th-grade advocacy and college and career preparation and planning. McGuire has more than 12 years experience helping local families navigate their children and young adults through the special education world. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.kellymcguireadvocate.com.