Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Oct 19
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by Jess

Your 15 year old child with a disability has just announced to you that he or she would like to go to college. 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.

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 is 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? There are questions that need to be asked 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?

Now is a good time to sit down with them and talk openly about their goals, how to finance it, and the commitment needed on their part to accomplish their dream. Many students have a dream, but lack the commitment; disability or not, the individual with a strong commitment to achieving their dream will have a greater chance of reaching his or her goal.

As you move forward through this process and your child enters college, remember regardless of how much you may want this for them; you cannot do it for them. Resist the urge to become a helicopter parent. Helicopter parents hover over their student’s entire educational experience; greatly diminishing the opportunities to learn how to be independent and self-motivated. And think about it, what 19 year old college student wants to hang out with their parents?

What’s first?

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.  

The difference is the word “access”. Once a student graduates from High School, they are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. They are considered and treated as adults. As adults it is their responsibility to seek out accommodations and follow through with using them. The college will not seek out the student if the available aids go unutilized.

It is also 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 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 various tests, 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 as is listening and asking questions.

Once out of high school, your child is considered an adult, as such is responsible for speaking up for his or her needs. As an example, your student will 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.

There are a few differences between your child’s k-12 education and his or her college education. 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. The IEP is not generally considered diagnostic documentation.

Before you schedule an appointment for an educational evaluation, it is imperative your child contacts the DSO of the college of choice, self-identify and ask what documentation is expected. Once you know what is required it is up to you and your child to obtain (read this as pay for) 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 2-3 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 should you be aware of when talking with the DSO?

Under the ADA colleges are required to provide access to educational opportunities; this does not mean your child will have the same accommodations he or she had in High School. 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.

Access to 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 although more colleges are including group work, 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 a fee.

Each of these items and perhaps more, depending on the needs of your child, will be rolled into his or her Transition Services Plan. Once the plan has been created the next 3-5 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. 

Step back, put your hands in your pockets and let them share this achievement with you. Yes, they may stumble or fall, doesn’t everyone? As parents you can be there to pick up the pieces and you can be there to celebrate. At the end of the day, after all of their hard work and commitment, it is their achievement, their time to shine. 

Kelly McGuire is the owner of AZTransitions. AZ Transitions helps families prepare their teenagers with disabilities for life after high school. Kelly is a mom of four, one with special needs and for the last 12 years has helped young adults and adults with disabilities navigate the post secondary world. aztransitions@yahoo.com


Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)- is the most comprehensive civil rights legislation adopted to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Public and private businesses, state and local government agencies, private entities offering public accommodations and services, transportation and utilities are required to comply with the law

Disability Services Office (DSO)- Department of office within a college or university responsible for providing reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. Accommodations are determined on an individual basis and according to specific documentation needs.

Helicopter Parent - a parent who pays obsessively close attention to his or her child's or children's experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions

Self-Identify- A post secondary student must contact the disability specialist or college personnel in order to apply or and potentially receive accommodations

Self- Advocate- the act of or practice of speaking up for and controlling one’s needs

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2 Responses to “Transitioning your Special Needs Child to Life after High School”

  1. I was a New York City Special Education teacher for 30 years. I am able to read and write IEP’s as well as work with Child teams and other professionals.

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    • My 18yr Son is supposed to graduate this june . My prob is that if he graduates , all services will stop & I haven’t been able to find a lot of options for gradruation. I have been advised by staff , that it may be in son’s best interest not to gradruate & stay in the present system until son is 22 . My son is autistic & wants to graduate & attend college . Any/All Advise/Referrals needed…

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