Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Cultural Models of Transition: Latina Mothers of Young Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Cultural Models of Transition: Latina Mothers of Young Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Article excerpt

Transition is an important part of the service system for students with developmental disabilities, a period during which young adults prepare for life beyond mandatory schooling (Blacher, 2001). During this time, decisions about living arrangements, further schooling, work placements, and the like must be made primarily by the young adult (whenever possible) with the input of teachers, school personnel, service agency representatives, and parents (Kramer & Blacher, 2001).

Despite the key role of transition as both a construct and a process in the service delivery system, little is known about culturally based variations in attitudes, beliefs, and meanings of transition for those involved. The present article begins to address this gap by providing a qualitative look at these areas from a group of Latina mothers of young adults with disabilities. Before reporting on the study, we provide a brief review of the concept of transition, and then discuss the role of cultural issues and why a cultural perspective is needed in the field.


Transition reflects a service delivery focus on the pursuit of a productive, independent life (Rusch & Menchetti, 1988), including domains such as career choices, future social relationships, and living arrangements (Halpern, 1985). Beginning no later than age 14, each student now must have included in the individualized education program (IEP) a statement of the transition services that he or she needs in order to prepare for such postschool outcomes as employment, postsecondary education, adult services, independent living, and community participation (IDEA Amendments, 1997), although the actual process of transition can take place anytime from ages 14 to about 26.


Transition planning for young adults with disabilities can be more complex and ambiguous than that involving nondisabled persons, the most obvious difference being that transition decisions for nondisabled young adults are generally informal processes that occur within the locus of the family, and interaction with larger social systems (i.e., colleges, workplace) are to some extent voluntary. Nondisabled adolescents and teenagers gradually assume responsibilities and roles that result in increasing independence, and transition to adulthood is often marked by specific life events (going away to college, marriage, employment, moving from home). Although there may be variance, the general expectation is that a nondisabled young adult will become independent from the family at some point. Successful transition of the young adult with disabilities, however, is less clearly delineated and is predicated on the notion of lifelong support from family members, advocates, and/or agencies.

Transition for both persons with and without disabilities may be further complicated when cultural differences are involved (Blacher, 2001; Harry, Rueda, & Kalyampur, 1999; Lehmann & Roberto, 1996). For example, there is some evidence of cultural variation regarding "normal" childrearing or family practices for young adults without disabilities (Gallimore & Goldenberg, 2001; Magana, 1999). In the special education literature, studies have shown variation in the meaning attached to disability (Blacher, 2001; Geenen, Powers, & Lopez-Vasquez, 2001; Harry, 1992a; Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999) and to service delivery systems and the values embedded in them (Chavira, Lopez, Blacher, & Shapiro, 2000; Gomez & Shapiro, 2000) from different cultural perspectives. This work suggests caution in assuming the universality of values such as development, life outcomes, family structures and roles, parenting, independence, and individual achievement apart from one's nuclear family that may be implied in discussions of the concepts of normalization and least restrictive environment.

An alternative view is that the notion of transition can be seen as a social construction, highly symbolic in ways that go beyond the more mundane issues related to living arrangements and economic support. …

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