Most children make it through the awkward transitions from elementary to middle to high school without emotional scarring. It’s simply a part of growing up. But, for children with disabilities, making those same transitions is not as easy as being dropped off at a different bus stop. Learn more about the various major school transitions.
Early intervention is the beginning to school transitions
Because of their unique situations, children with disabilities require special planning that will guide them through the educational system and into adulthood. The government has mandated programs starting at birth that can prevent educational and developmental setbacks as they make the five transitions through school.
In the mid-1980’s, the federal government announced its “transition initiative” that was followed by laws that provide guidance to children from birth through adulthood.
The most significant mandate came in 1990 with the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It requires, in part, timely planning and implementation of transition services beginning at age 14 and updated annually through secondary school and into adulthood.
(Birth to 2 years old)
However, the government also recognizes that transition assistance might be necessary long before a child with disabilities makes that first move into daycare or preschool. The reason is that babies typically develop basic skills in the first three years of life such as:
- Physical – Reaching, rolling, crawling and walking
- Cognitive – Thinking, learning and solving problems
- Communication – Talking, listening and understanding
- Social/Emotional – Playing, feeling secure and happy
- Self-Help – Eating and dressing
Each state is required by law to seek out and evaluate all children with disabilities from birth to age 21. The goal is to determine how to help them prepare for school and beyond, then create a map to guide them. Family support and involvement are stressed during this process.
Don’t wait for a knock on the front door.
Keeping in mind that babies don’t develop at the same rate, parents with serious concerns about delays such as crawling, walking, reaching and eating should take immediate action. Some symptoms can be signs of disabilities that will require therapy, special education, even surgery.
Specialists agree that the sooner the symptoms are treated, the better the chances for the child to be prepared for the challenges ahead.
Child Find is the government-supported program that can help make the determination. While it utilizes school records, statistical data, hospital information and referrals to find children with disabilities, it can’t find everybody.
All states have a Child Find agency. Parents can request the assessment, or ask their child’s pediatrician for a referral. Area hospitals and state agencies should also have contact information for Child Find.
Individualized Family Service Plan
It takes 45 days for Child Find to conduct an assessment. Once the child is deemed eligible, the Child Find team will help create an Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP, that details the disabilities and lists the services that will be needed to address them. The family must approve the details that start with building a team of experts and parents as major contributors. Other participants may include medical providers, therapists, child development specialists and social workers.
Among the information included in the IFSP:
- Child’s present physical cognitive, communications, social/emotional and adaptive development levels and needs
- Available resources, priorities and concerns of parents
- Major result expected
- Special education services the child may receive –
- Where and how often the services will be provided
- Who will pay for the services (Costs are generally determined on a sliding scale)?
- The name of the service coordinator who will oversee the process
- Steps that will be taken to support the transition to the next phase
Early Head Start (Birth to 2) and Head Start (3 to 5)
Head Start is a federally-funded resource for parents with children from birth to 5 years old who have disabilities.
The mission of Head Start is to enhance cognitive, social and emotional needs during the critical development stages. Parental participation is encouraged during the process that supports language and literacy, cognition and general knowledge, physical development and health, social and emotional development and approaches to learning.
Head Start was initially designed for low-come families, however, children with disabilities are welcome and included in all activities, which means children with disabilities play and learn in the same environment as children without disabilities. Resources are also available to address physical, developmental and behavioral symptoms.
At Head Start, parents, teachers and specialists all work together to develop a unique program for each child— both in the classroom and at home. Statistics show that children with disabilities make up more than 10% of Head Start’s total enrollment.
In support of high-quality preschool for every child, President Barack Obama in February 2013 proposed a new federal-state partnership to develop effective resources to help close America’s school readiness gap and prepare children for kindergarten. President Obama said he would call for a significant investment to be made in the Early Head Start program in order to reach all children from birth through age 3.
Early Childhood Intervention
(3 to 5 years old)
Typically, six months before a child’s third birthday, the IFSP team should begin planning to make sure that services are not interrupted until the child starts preschool. Called Early Childhood Intervention, this step helps the team decide whether to stay on course with the IFSP plan or write and Individual Education Plan, a legal document that guarantees the student access to special education programs.
Nursery school programs, pre-school and pre-kindergarten educators should be involved as the focus turns toward preparing the child for the education system. Parents remain vital to the creation and implementation of the IEP, which will be overseen throughout the child’s elementary and secondary school years.
The focus at this stage is to promote development and learning, provide support to families, coordinate services and decrease the need for costly special education services down the line.
Kindergarten to Secondary Education
(6 to 16 years old)
If the IEP is already in place, a child will have an edge when entering kindergarten and beyond.
The IEP will be updated and adapted annually to meet the child’s changing needs. (It can be created at any time throughout the child’s journey through public education.)
It will include, for starters, adapted lesson plans, one-on-one support, mainstreamed classroom involvement, or a combination of all. The purpose of the IDEA is to make sure that children with disabilities have the same access to the same general education as their peers in the least restrictive environment.
Parents can smooth the transition by meeting with the both general education and special education teachers before the start of school to discuss their methods of teaching a child that has physical impairments and find out about available services.
Some schools discourage parents of children with disabilities from involvement once the child reaches first or second grade. Parents need to know that it’s their right and responsibility to be an equal partner throughout the IEP process.
Up to age 14, the transition plan focuses on service needs in relationship to course of study. It includes goals and objectives with timelines for each, areas of educational training and focus and measures to show progress.
Transition Planning for Adulthood
(14 to 16 years old)
When the student turns 14 (16 at the latest), he or she will become directly involved in the transition planning for services necessary to move onto a post-secondary education, employment, adult services, independent living and community participation.
A comprehensive statement will be created must be comprehensive, individualized and address the personal needs, preferences and interests of the student. The IEP will continue to follow the plan and make any changes necessary to accommodate the student’s needs and desires. The purpose is to create a bridge that leads the student into the adult world.
At age 17, the student must be informed in writing that, upon turning 18 he or she will have the right to make IEP decisions, unless a parent has obtained guardianship.
Transition into Secondary Education
(16 to 21 years of age)
When a child turns 18 years old, or graduates from high school (by age 21), the IEP ends. Ideally, children with disabilities should have a comprehensive plan in place to help them make a smooth transition into adulthood.
That said, they may be eligible as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to enroll in training and secondary education opportunities. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which, in part, prohibits discrimination against college tuition funding for people with disabilities.
Depending on individual circumstances, students with disabilities may qualify for course accommodations such as taped textbooks, oral testing, a note taker and priority seating. In addition, they may receive extended time for testing.
It is the student’s responsibility to inform college officials of his or her disability and request accommodations.
The federal government provides a comprehensive list of programs and protections for adults with disabilities, including benefits, civil rights protections, community living standards, education opportunities, employment options, health care, housing and transportation.
Learn more at disability.gov. Also, check with local organizations, churches and nonprofits that provide assistance and support to individuals with disabilities.
Every child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Some children require aids and supports. Parents are urged to research and meet with educators in the public and private sectors to decide the appropriate education path to meet their child’s needs.
About Special Education
- The Value of Education
- Special Education Legislation
- Special Education Options
- Eligibility for Special Education
- Special Education Assessments
- Special Education Planning Team
- Special Education Services
- Types of Special Education Plans
- School Transitions
- Dispute Resolution
- School Nutrition Programs
- Adaptive Sports in the Public School System