What Are Transitions in Special Education?

Transitions from grade to grade or to adult services require planning.

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Transition in special education programs, in general, is the movement from program to another. The "official" term, however, usually refers to the transition from school-based to adult services.  This major transition occurs at age 22, when a child ages out of IDEA programs and is served, instead, by adult vocational and developmental agencies.

While the biggest transition occurs at age 22, your child will go through a number of transitions -- even if she stays in the same school district throughout her growing up years.

 Transition can be:

  • from one grade classroom to another;
  • from one school to another;
  • from one program to another; or
  • from school to postsecondary, college, vocational program, or other program.

It is important to communicate with your child's teachers concerning upcoming transitions. Typically schools will discuss transition at IEP team meetings or annual reviews. You may, however, want to begin the conversation informally with your child's teachers and school administration so that you fully understand the available options.  You may also want to visit your child's upcoming setting to ensure that it really does live up to the description provided by the district.

When discussing your learning disabled child's transition from one situation to another, it is important to understand:

  • your child's level of performance in his current placement;
  • the requirements in the new placement; and
  • the areas your child will likely require supports to help him adjust.

    The team will need to identify what adaptations, modifications, specially designed instruction, or other supports will be needed for your child to succeed in his new placement. Of particular concern as your child ages out of early childhood education will be social and behavioral concerns. In middle and high school, these issues can emerge as major challenges -- particularly for a child who is coping with a disorder such as ADHD, which has an impact on her behaviors, thought processes, and social skills.

    Before agreeing to an IEP for a new setting, you may also want to consult with other parents whose children with learning disabilities have already gone through the same transition. How well did the school prepare their child for transitions?  Did the programs in the new setting fulfill their needs?  What kinds of challenges came up that you should be prepared for?  Are their options the school officials haven't mentioned?

    The more you know about your district's ability to handle transitions, the better prepared you'll be to ask for exactly what your child needs. You may also decide to take more or less of an active role in the transition process depending upon what you learn.  In some cases, it might be a good idea to ask that your child visit their new setting and "shadow" the class for a day -- so that they are fully prepared for the next step in their education.  You may also want to meet with your child's new teacher and/or administrator prior to the start of the school year, to talk about challenges, strengths, and strategies that work well for your particular child.

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