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Transition Planning

The transition from high school to adulthood can be challenging, especially for individuals with special needs & their families. With that in mind, families and special needs individuals should begin thinking about how to handle the move from high school to adulthood early in the process. A well-developed transition plan helps to assure a smooth transition by ensuring that an individual has measurable steps in place that will guide him or her towards his or her goals after graduation.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), which is a federal law ensuring that children with disabilities receive certain educational services, requires that special education students have an Individualized Education Program, also known as an IEP. As part of the IEP, students, parents, and other members of the IEP team are required to develop a formal transition plan. IDEA mandates that formal transition planning begins by age 16 at the latest, although North Carolina requires that transition planning commence at age 14.

Transition planning should start with a discussion of what goals students and their families have for post-high school life, such as whether the student wishes to pursue or engage in post-secondary education, vocational education, employment, independent living, adult services, or community participation. IEP team members should then develop steps for the student to achieve his or her adulthood goals. When developing steps in a transition plan, IEP team members should consider:

  • Types of instruction a student might need, such as academic requirements for the student’s selected course of study, employment skills training, career technical education, social skills, self-determination, driver’s education or public transportation
  • Additional related services, such as occupational, physical, or speech therapy, counseling, and special transportation requirements
  • Beneficial community experiences, such as community work experience, recreational and leisure activities, tours of post-secondary education facilities, residential tours, and volunteer activities
  • Necessary adult living skills, such as researching Social Security benefits and work incentives, registering to vote, filing taxes, personal home maintenance skills, and money management
  • Necessary daily living skills, such as personal hygiene, health and wellness training, meal planning, and time management.

Remember, the development of the transition plan should focus on the needs, desires, and goals of the student, and the student should be involved in the process as much as possible. Putting everything together, the IEP team, including the student, parents, teachers, and any other professionals or friends with insight, should determine what the goals are for the student for post-high school life, and what steps are necessary to help ensure the student’s success in adulthood.

Examples of transitional skills to consider are available at: http://www.autismsociety-nc.org/index.php/get-help/resources/families/autism-adulthood-transition/22-get-help/122-developing-individual-transition-plan and http://www.ndss.org/Resources/Transition-and-Beyond/Life-After-High-School
A list of resources for developing self-advocacy skills is available at : http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/priority-selfadvocacy

Post-Secondary Education and Training

When developing a transition plan, individuals with disabilities and their families might consider seeking further education or training after graduation. Academic programs or courses at a community college or other college or university may be an option for further education. Additionally, students may consider seeking training through an apprenticeship or attendance at a trade school.

Programs and schools differ in terms of what they offer to students with disabilities regarding academics, independent living skills training, residential options, the type of diploma or certificate earned, and other support services. Many programs and schools also have eligibility and entrance requirements, such as certain academic credits to qualify for admittance. Another aspect to consider is the location of the program or school. As a result, IEP team members should begin evaluating potential programs and schools early, so that requirements and other skills needed to help ensure a successful transition can be included in the transition plan.

This is a great resource on post-secondary education options, including resources for post-secondary education for individuals with specific resources: http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/education/.


For many individuals with disabilities, employment after graduation is serious consideration when developing a transition plan. Since there are many different fields of employment, IEP team members, especially students, should consider what types of jobs would be suited to the student’s interests, needs, and preferences. This can be a daunting consideration, but deciding what type of job would be ideal is an important stepping stone for putting together a transition plan with employment in mind.

One option to consider regarding employment is the potential need for a job coach, particularly for students with more severe disabilities. Job coaches are professionals who help the new employee adapt to the working environment and help the employee learn the requirements of the position. Support from job coaches may only be necessary for a period of time or may be provided on an ongoing basis, depending on the needs of the individual. When developing a transition plan, IEP team members should evaluate the need for a job coach and how the one can be obtained. One option may be someone who can provide “natural support,” because he or she is already employed at the location and is willing to complete some of the duties of a job coach.

Professional job coaches for individuals in supported employment settings are usually obtained through vocational rehabilitation programs

Adult Services

When developing and implementing transition plans, key elements for success can be the availability of adult services for individuals with disabilities. These services tend to vary based on community, but services to look for include: vocational rehabilitative agencies, mental health services, independent living centers, and the Social Security Administration. Inviting representatives from agencies and programs to participate in developing a transition plan can be very helpful, since they will have insight into the various services and programs offered.

Vocational Rehabilitative Services

Vocational Rehabilitative Services (“VRS”) is a division of the North Carolina Health and Human Services Agency. VRS provides a wide variety of services for individuals with cognitive, sensory, physical, and emotional disabilities, directed at helping such individuals obtain employment, education, and increased independence. Services provided by VRS often are for a limited period of time and are based on the individual’s rehabilitation plan. Additionally, VRS has its own eligibility requirements for certain services. Therefore, IEP team members should explore what services are available to the student.

More information on the North Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Services Division can be found at http://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/dvrs.

Mental Health Services

Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services (“MHDDSAS”) is another division of the North Carolina Human Services Agency. MHDDSAS focuses on providing support for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities as well as promoting treatment and recovery for individuals with mental health issues. Similar to VRS, MHDDSAS has eligibility requirements, so make sure to check what services would be available to the student, if needed.

More information on the North Carolina Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities Division and Substance Abuse Services Division can be found at: http://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/mhddsas

Independent Living Centers

Independent living centers (“ILCs”) are non-residential, non-profit organizations, which to promote independence in an integrated community for individuals with disabilities. A key aspect to ILCs is peer support, so the majority of staff members and members of the board of directors are individuals with disabilities. Since ILCs are regional, services offered vary depending on location. When creating a transition plan, IEP team members may want to reach out to local ILC representatives to explore potential services for the student.

The NC Statewide Independent Living Council offers more information on ILCs at: http://www.ncsilc.org/centers

Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) operates the federal program that provides benefits for any individual with a severe mental or physical disability that renders them unable to do substantial work, regardless of age. SSA offers several programs, including Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”), Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), Plans to Achieve Self-Support (“PASS”), Medicare, and Medicaid.

The SSA website provides a more detailed explanation of the different services and eligibility requirements for each program at: https://www.ssa.gov

Independent or Semi-Independent Living

Depending on the level of need, many disabled individuals are capable of living completely or almost completely on their own. When considering independent or semi-independent living arrangements, parents should remember that there are ways to facilitate independent or semi-independent living, such as security equipment, environmental controls, video monitoring, and other sensors and modes of communication. Installing some of these systems would allow a high-functioning individual to live a mostly independent lifestyle, while still monitoring for changes in behavioral patterns and a possible for assistance.

According to the Center on Transition Innovations, independent living is defined as “those skills or tasks that contribute to the successful independent functioning of an individual in adulthood . . . [which are often categorized] into the major areas related to our daily lives, such as housing, personal care, transportation, and social and recreational opportunities.”

One major component to independent living considerations when developing a transition plan should be residential options. Not all individuals with disabilities will desire to or be able to leave the family’s home for more independent housing, but alternative housing centered on increased independence is often an option families explore. If residential housing is something that may be suitable for the student, IEP team members should evaluate the different types of residential housing and consider which might be the best option for the student and what steps the student would need to successfully transition to residential housing. Some of the types of residential housing IEP team members may consider are group living, unique living arrangements, and independent or semi-independent living.

For additional information on residential housing as well as detailed considerations for transition planning for residential housing, see:


and http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/independent/

Independent Living or Group Living

There are various kinds of group living arrangements available, offering different levels of supervision. One kind of group living is an Intermediate Care Facility for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (“ICF/IDD”). ICF/IDDs are better suited for individuals with a high level of need and who would require staff members to be available 24/7 to assure safety and provide habilitative care and training. Additionally, ICF/IDDs must offer specialized therapies as needed as well as maintain an active treatment plan at all times. Most ICF/IDDs have six residents, although they do vary in size to some degree.

Another option for group living are Homes for Developmentally Disabled Adults (“DDA”). This option is geared towards individuals with low to moderate levels of need, who would not require constant staff supervision and availability. Individuals best suited for this setting would need only limited assistance with skill-building and would be able to complete most self-help activities primarily independently. Newer DDAs have only three residents, although some older facilities may have up to six residents.

A third type of group living is an Alternative Family Living (“AFL”) setting. Similar to DDAs, ideal AFL residents should not have a high level of need or require staff to awake and be available 24/7. In AFL residences, staff members stay with the residents in a home and provide habilitative services. AFLs are a good option for individuals who prefer a smaller group home and who would benefit from a family setting. Individuals who reside in AFLs typically engage in post-secondary education, attend a day program, or are employed.

When considering group living options for a transition plan, IEP team members should bear in mind that group living arrangements are often quite scarce and have long waiting lists. Additionally, finding the right group living option can be a time-consuming process and involve several tours. Therefore, IEP team members should begin evaluating group living options with plenty of time before graduation.

Unique Living Arrangements

Sometimes parents and students find group living options to be limiting or too scarce. As a result, some parents have turned to creative new types of living arrangements, such as jointly contributing funds to obtain a residence and hiring the necessary staff to provide services. If IEP team members think this may be a good option for the student, then the parents should consult an attorney to help obtain a license for the home and ensure that the home is financially sustainable. For an example, see the “Young Men of Marram Place” article in the appendix of the residential planning toolkit.

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