Ten Tips: Finding the Right Transition Program: Of the Transition Programs Available, the Right Choice Is a Matter of "Goodness of Fit" between the Learning Needs of the Student and the Transition Program's Course Offerings and Structure

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Leaving the security of the special education system can strike terror into the heart of even the most stalwart parent of a teenager with special needs. Many high school students with special needs are not yet ready for the leap into the world of work and independent living, or are not ready to pursue a college degree as a full time student at a four-year college. For those students, a transition program might be the best interim step between going away to college and venturing into the world of work. How does one go about choosing the right transition program?

There is no one right answer. There is no perfect program. There are a variety of transition programs available, and the right choice is a matter of "goodness of fit" between the learning needs of the student and the transition program's course offerings and structure. Here are 10 tips to help you decide with your special needs teenager if the transition program is right for him or her, and your family:

1 Start with the student's Individualized EducationPlan (IEP)

Beginning at age 14, a transition goal should be identified. By age 16, a transition plan should be in place. It should not just outline the student's goals, post high school, but it should also contain the steps necessary to reach those goals. The IEP, along with the student's educational evaluation, contain important data that can guide the selection process. Is the student's goal to graduate at age 18 years old with a diploma? Or is the plan for the student to continue his or her education?

If the latter is part of the plan, then parents need to ask specifically what the postsecondary goals are for the student. And they should ask how those goals going to be met. Is the goal for the student to pursue a college degree? Or are the goals for the student to live independently and work? Some school districts are willing to pay for at least the tuition portion of a transition program if the student is not graduating from high school at age 18 years. Some transition programs can help school districts reach difficult IEP goals in the areas of independent living skills, social skills, and vocational skills.

The IEP and its supporting psycho-educational evaluation can also guide the student with special needs and his or her parents in selecting a transition program that is either geared toward transitioning a student to a degree bearing program or a vocation. The student must be able to read, write and do mathematics at, or near, a college level in order to pursue credit bearing classes. College-based transition programs may suit a student who reads and writes at a college level. However, these academic skills are insufficient to insure success. The student must possess excellent executive functioning skills in order to complete complex assignments expected of college students. Furthermore, they must be able to comport themselves in an appropriate manner in a college class room. Finally, they must possess the independent living and social skills to navigate living in a residence hall and the daily tasks associated with living on one's own.

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2 Decide if the goals are vocational and independent living in nature or is the goal of the transition program to pursue a college degree.

Community-based transition programs are ideal for a student who wants to work on independent living skills. Often the cooking and home maintenance classes are taught in the student's own apartment. This is important for a student whose disability makes it difficult for him or her to generalize skills across settings. For example, in teaching cooking skills, the classroom may have a gas stove, but the student has an electric stove at his or her apartment. This can lead to confusion and the student must be specifically taught the cooking skills all over again on the electric stove. Community based transition programs tend to focus upon vocational skills, but some programs have memoranda of understanding with local community colleges, so some of the program participants can take college courses for credit. …