I recently met with the parent of a 14 year old child with autism transitioning to high school. The parent has been actively involved in her son’s education and is a strong advocate in her own school district, involved in her Special Education Parent Teacher Association (or SEPTA) and participating in district committee’s on diverse education and staff issues. With all that said, I was struck by how out of sync this parent was in understanding the importance of the transition planning process as well as how critical the student’s IEP is in defining their needs, timely assessments and long term goals through good documentation. After my conversation with her, it seemed that it may be worthwhile to pass along some of my observation and suggestions for parents as they begin the transition planning process for their special needs child…
1) If it’s not on the IEP it’s not happening. Time and time again I speak to parents about their child’s program and needs and hear parents tell me that, “Well, it’s not in his IEP but I know they are doing it anyway because I told/asked them to.” Although we all try to operate in good faith with our schools and the staff, it is imperative that all of your child’s needs are defined somewhere in their IEP. They don’t all need to be goals, but if you have concerns or have discussed something with your child’s team, document it. It’s just good practice.
2) Understanding the Importance of Related Services during Transition. As a student progresses through their school program, related services become so much more than traditional speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Assistive technology (online banking, touch typing, e-mailing & even texting!), travel training (cars, trains and busses), sex education (yes-starts in 10th grade for all New York State students), vocational training (internships, community service, etc) and so many more related services must be layered into a student’s IEP. These become the keys to transition success. They bring the process to life! Use them to build the foundation to successful transition.
3) Managing “Cute” Behaviors…that are not so cute at age 21). Parents can sometimes fall into the trap of not seeing how their child’s “adorable” behavior can easily become inappropriate and sometimes even dangerous as a student gets older. I recall one parent fondly telling me how her son who has autism is so very social now, “He will walk up to anyone and introduce himself (full name and address). It’s so funny! People think he’s a riot.” When I asked her if he was able to differentiate friends from foes, she looked puzzled, saying “Well, he never goes anywhere without me, so he’s safe.” Clearly, this behavior which is “cute” and manageable at the age of 9 or 10 could potentially become a risk if it’s not addressed as the child gets older. Behaviors must be identified in the Independent Living Skills portion of an IEP. If the student needs an assessment (referred to as a Functional Behavior Assessment) and a plan (called a Behavior Intervention Plan), ask for this (in writing) and include these needs in their social/emotional goals.
4) Advocating for an appropriate “Level 1” Assessment. In New York and many other states, school districts are required to complete a “Level 1” Assessment for ALL students with an IEP at the age of 12. This important assessment is a method of determining what a student’s interests and hobbies are, what vocational and educational goals they may have and how they generally function in their world in terms of daily living skills. The only problem with this is that there is no mandated assessment form that schools are required to use, so it becomes very important for parents to advocate for using an appropriate assessment that truly captures their child’s unique and individual needs. This assessment becomes the foundation for the IEP transition plan. So search the internet: there are a wide variety of assessment forms available. See if you can find one that asked the right questions. Gathering a wide range of information that clearly articulates your child’s needs, interests and dreams is imperative.
5) Never stop dreaming. As the parent of four teenage sons, it never ceases to amaze me how different my boys are: each has great strengths as well as curious weaknesses, but all of them have unique hopes and dreams. I urge all of the parents with special needs students to never give up on advocating for your child’s hopes and dreams. Even in these difficult economic times, new and amazing opportunities are available for students with special needs. Whether its post-secondary education and employment, travel and adventure or just enjoying good health and happiness, all of our children can and should work towards these goals. As my mother always said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Never stop looking for the way…
Tara M. Klein-Advocate and Life Planner
Tara received a Bachelor of Science degree from La Roche College in 1982. Born and raised in Albany, NY, Tara’s mother was a resource room special education teacher. Her father was an attorney. She currently lives in Westchester County with her husband, Russ, and their four teenage sons. Tara became committed to advocating for appropriate special education programs ten years ago through her own personal experience with her children. She joined Westchester Arc in the spring of 2008 as a transition consultant with the “Life Planning” team.
In 2005, Tara was one of only 20 candidates in NYS to complete the first federally funded COPAA Special Education Advocate Training program on the East coast. She completed her internship at the law firm of Mayerson & Associates in New York. Recently, Tara created a web based transition planning toolkit resource to support school staff and parents which helps to organize the complex documents required for diverse student planning profiles.
Go to www.tickbang.com for more information and resources.