Lisa Lightner is a Special Education Advocate, inspired by her own son with special needs. She is on the faculty at The National Special Education Advocacy Institute and is on the Board of Directors for the Pennsylvania Education for All Coalition. She has helped to change special education funding legislation in her state. Lisa is a credentialed lobbyist for the UN Foundation and champions for many maternal/child issues such as education, vaccines, and eliminating poverty in our country. Her award winning special needs parenting blog, “A Day in our Shoes” has received accolades such as being named the #14 Family Blog in the country for 2012 and is listed as one the Global Team of 200-one of 200 moms on the planet using their blog and social media to champion for moms and children. She has been featured on several Philadelphia TV shows and publications and recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website. She has been published in Parenting Special Needs Magazine, Babycenter, Autism Today, Valpak, MSN Money, MetroKids and she serves as a Mom Ambassador for national brands McDonald’s, Sesame Place, Chicken Soup for the Soul and Longwood Gardens.
I work as a Special Ed Advocate and find that many families do not have a full understanding of the importance of the transition process for their child. In my state transition is to begin at age 14, in other states it is 16. You can check your state’s code for what year it should begin, but in my mind transition begins now.
Nationally, about 11% of American citizens live in poverty but if you are an American adult living with a disability, that rate jumps to almost 30% (US Census, 2010). A 2004 United States survey found that only 35 per cent of working-age people with disabilities are in fact working, compared to 78 per cent of those without disabilities (United Nations Disability Council, 2004). We are really missing the mark when it comes to transition and preparing our kids for society. And equally as important-preparing society for our kids.
It is my personal philosophy that since transition to adult society is so important and the available adult programs and services are so few that all families should start preparing for transition now.
There are nine components of Transition Planning (NSEAI, 2009-13), as follows:
- program structure
- service identification
- interagency involvement
- interagency communication and collaboration
- individualized skill development
- family involvement
- personal skill development
- individualized programming-student focused-self determination
- monitoring of outcomes
That’s quite a list of big words. But what it comes down to…is EVERYTHING. Everything for daily living either at home, supported housing, college or independently—every aspect of day-to-day life needs to be considered in building a successful transition plan.
If I see one more transition goal of “will register for the draft and do research on 3 colleges” I just may lose it in the IEP meeting. Is he going to make it through a job interview? Can he even find and apply for a job and know if it’s appropriate to apply for it? Important skills like anger management, social cognition, personal grooming and recreation and leisure skills are just as important as job skills. They need to remain on the IEP until the goals are met and need to be considered as part of transition.
What does your child know about money and budgeting? Can they maintain a bank account? Do they know what type of apartment may be in their price range? If you are pursuing post-secondary education, does you child know what they want to pursue? It’s time to start trying things and fostering interests. Simple things such as being included in the high school yearbook (yes, we do exist!) often get overlooked for our kids.
Does your child know how to use down time appropriately or how to recreate? Do they know how to manage their time in the morning to get to school/job on time? Are they candidates for a driver’s license or will they be using public transportation? Do they know how to read a bus schedule? What will they do if they miss a bus? Will you child be able to manage a key? Will they lock their apartment door behind them? Will they not over share information with neighbors?
If it is deemed necessary, our kids can stay in school until age 21. Take a look at your child today and envision them at 18 or 21. Using that 13th, 14th and even 15th year is becoming more common. I gave up the dream a long time ago that my son would walk across the graduation stage with his peers. I’m sure I’ll cry again on that day just as I did when his peers started regular kindergarten. But, in special needs parenting doesn’t allow us much time for feeling sorry for ourselves. There is too much work to be done. And transition needs to be the goal for all families, if our kids are going to be successful in society. That’s all we’re asking, right?