A son or daughter’s move from school into adulthood is one of the biggest and potentially most difficult life changes, and this is particularly true for students with special needs. As the transition approaches, students and their parents may find themselves anxious and concerned by the change and uncertainty on the horizon.
Almost all transitions require adapting to new routines, navigating unfamiliar places, and facing heightened expectations for personal responsibility and self-control. Transitions are often preceded by times of frustration and ambiguity in which students and parents may find their flexibility and patience tested.
Transition programs can offer the guidance, resources and foundation needed to navigate through this uncertain time. They are designed for students with special needs who have completed high school and will receive funding until age 21. Such programs can support a student’s interests and abilities and prepare them for the opportunities and challenges of post-21 life. A transition program should offer the student the ability to choose one of three directions, depending on the student’s aspirations and abilities:
- Post-Secondary Education: transition programs can provide tailored support to a student pursuing a post-secondary education program such as such as a local community college, four-year college or university or certified trade school. Depending on a student’s needs, this support might involve preparation for higher education (SAT prep, school visits, help with applications and course choice) or services while enrolled (study skills instruction, career counseling, social skills instruction, self advocacy training, and a college support group to help students navigate college life).
- Vocational Development: a focus on building career skills for students who plan to pursue paid work in the competitive employment sector or seek community based guided work opportunities. This strand might focus on building self-advocacy skills, helping students secure a job and providing on-site job coaching.
- Vocational/Life Skills Education: for students bridging to work, housing, and community support from adult agencies. Students in this strand could participate in campus based work experiences and Community Based Vocational Training in a highly supported environment, develop job skills and learn life and independent-living skills in context.
A critical element of a transition program is the extent to which it can be individualized to meet a student’s needs. A successful program builds on a student’s strengths and passions, offers students the chance to take supported risks, and is flexible enough to adjust to changing conditions. A program which serves a wider range of students may offer greater flexibility if a student’s aspirations change. Regardless of a student’s abilities, a transition program must offer its students meaningful occupation, the chance to develop targeted transferable work skills, and opportunities for recreation, leisure, and social life.
In addition to a telescopic focus on preparing students for their futures, transition programs provide a peer group and recreational and social opportunities for students who are out of high school but only beginning to embark on adult life. Programs may also offer classes in human sexuality, dating and marriage as part of a holistic approach to educating students for life.
Transition is a voyage, not a day cruise. With hard work, persistence, and the compass of a transition program, students and their parents can more successfully weather the storms and navigate through the life-altering transition to adulthood.
Jacque Murray, M.A., M.Ed., is the Director of the Vanguard Transition Center (www.vanguardschool-pa.org/vtc), Valley Forge Educational Services, which offers opportunities for post-secondary education, career development, and social and life skills development to adults ages 18-21 who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, mild emotional disturbance, and/or neurological impairments. She has 33 years of experience as a teacher and administrator at The Vanguard School and the Vanguard Transition Center. She also teaches graduate and undergraduate classes in special education and autism at Eastern University.
Valley Forge Educational Services
Valley Forge Educational Services offers a wide variety of educational services focused on guiding learners to independence. VFES provides educational solutions for young children, adolescents and pre-21 adults ranging from K-12 school-based and summer programs to post high school (18-21) transition skills programming to clinical consultation services. VFES also offers professional support to organizations, schools and families through its Luma Center™ for Development and Learning, Summer Matters™ division, Vanguard School, Vanguard Transition Center and Professional Development and Parent Learning Series. For more than 50 years, Valley Forge Educational Services has been dedicated to improving specialized education through innovative research and advanced practices for students, parents, educators, professionals and organizations. For more information on Valley Forge Educational Services, please visit www.vfes.net.