Special Needs Awareness and Advocacy 

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Transitioning from school age to young adult for a student with special needs is tough. Trying to navigate the system and decide what is best takes a lot of time and a precise thought process. Should your student remain in school? For how long? Graduate?  It is a scary process because it is a new phase and change is difficult and for some very dramatic. In order to make a decision you must first understand the transition process and the options available.

Transitioning is “designed to ensure that the student will be provided the necessary skills and services to make a smooth transition from school to adult life with as little interruption as possible” (www.cpacinc.org).  It is mandated for all students who have an IEP. It should be based on the student’s needs, preferences and interests.

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My twins and I began talking about it around 10th and 11th grades.  The three of us made decisions that were best for them and our lives.  Since they are twins, it was important to them to graduate together, even though Dominique had the option to remain in school until the age of 22.  We considered all our options and talked it over with her team. She was ready to leave school.  Dominique and I had attended several transition fairs throughout high school to see what her options were.  I had signed her up with the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation (BVR) through Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) when she was 14 years old.  Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) is the State of Ohio agency that partners with Ohioans with disabilities to achieve quality employment and independence (www.ood.ohio.gov).

I heard about BVR through Dominique’s outpatient occupational therapist and pursued these services on my own, so by the time she entered 12th grade, she already had the skills to leave high school with a plan that I developed on my own.  My goal has always been that even though she has a disability, she must do something, school, work, class, volunteer, something.  Both girls must get up every morning with a plan to contribute to society, and a disability is not a hindrance.

By the time we began transition team meetings, she had worked part time two summers in the laundry department at an assistant living facility, had been assessed and worked a few months as a greeter at a nursing home, all were paid positions. I scheduled her rides and she learned how to ride the paratransit to and from work. I took her to the bank and opened up a savings and checking account and showed her how to deposit her check and use a debit card. She sometimes struggles with certain aspects of banking that we continue work on.

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She attended job readiness classes, met with a job coach regularly, attended several transition fairs and learned to navigate public transportation. She was a head of the game, and that is why the decision for her to leave school was a little easier because I believed she was ready for a new chapter and a change in the routine.  I felt that she would be better developing life skills by actually being in the community and participating hands on.  The goal was for her to participate in some activity that she would be able to use her verbal and social skills.  We discussed classes or community college and that option is still on the table.  I would love to see her take some college courses.

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After the transition meeting, we brought in another job coach to assist her with working as a greeter at Target for a few weeks in the evenings after school.  It was a challenge that she was able to manage (I was tired and worried some) working in the evenings until 9:00 pm after being in school all day.  I met her at the beginning and end of her shift to help her navigate through the mall to the store and wait with her until her bus came when she got off.  She left school on the school bus for home, then caught a Paratransit to work.  Some evenings she didn’t get home until 10:00 or 11:00 pm, but made it to school every day.  We were accessing the skills she had learned in the job readiness program such as work tolerance, self advocacy, and development of work habits. We knew she was ready.  Once she graduated, they welcomed her back at the nursing home three days a week as a patient care companion. The residents and the staff love and spoil her.

Jasmine’s transition was a little different than Dominique’s where she didn’t have a transition team, we met with the school psychologist from the district 12th grade. She decided she would continue her education.  She had a 504 plan throughout high school because she went to a private school.  They only did 504 plans which are accommodation plans that provide extended time or small group administration for statewide testing (www.additude.com).  They do not provide for specialized instruction, physical, speech or occupational therapy.  Qualifications for 504 Plans are a diagnosis for a physical or emotional disability, or impairment that restricts one or more major life activities.  When she was in elementary and middle public school, she did have an IEP.  She had issues with testing and needed extra time for testing, physical therapy, extra help with math and transportation.

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My goal for her was the same after high school, work or school.  She decided to attend community college for two years and is now at a university as an English major.  She is not sure if she wants to teach, write or get into communications.  She has transitioned and done really well, acing all her classes and navigating the university which she commutes by bus an hour away three days a week. She was heart set on going to this university even though we have another one 10 minutes away. It didn’t make sense to me to commute, but I told her if you apply, get in, figure out how to pay for it and how to get there, then you deserve to go, and she did all of that on her own!  She is a strong advocate for herself and set up all her disability services and needed accommodations through the university. She receives transportation to classes, extra time to get to class, can leave early from class if needed, can’t be penalized for missing school, extra time on tests, and priority seating.

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What I learned is there is no standard way of transitioning, you don’t have to leave school, you don’t have to stay, what you have to do is talk, make a plan and do what is best for your student.

What’s your student’s transition plan and how do you feel about it?  Let’s talk!


damotivatedmom@gmail.com or twitter at Twinzmommy2