The purpose of this article is to outline how school and rehabilitation counselors can work together more effectively to meet the needs of students with disabilities. School and rehabilitation counselors share similar education, goals, and values, and they bring complementary skills and knowledge to their work with students. By increasing their understanding of rehabilitation counseling, school counselors can broaden their professional activities with students with disabilities to enhance their transition into the post-high school world.
Nearly 6 million children and youth receive special education and related services to meet their unique individual needs (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). In large part, federal legislation has impacted the provision of services for these students with disabilities. In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) was passed with the purpose of supporting states and localities in protecting the rights of, meeting the individual needs of, and improving the outcomes for toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities. By educating children in their neighborhood schools, rather than in separate schools and institutions, and providing more supportive services, it was hoped that the rate of high school graduation, postsecondary school enrollment, and post-school employment would increase (U.S. Department of Education). This landmark legislation brought school counselors, together with other educators, fully into the front lines of serving students with special needs and required counselors to redefine their responsibilities when working with these students, their parents, and their teachers (Scarborough & Deck, 1998). Initially, school counselors fulfilled their obligation by simply referring students with disabilities to professionals trained to serve that population (e.g., special educators, school psychologists, rehabilitation counselors, community agencies) (Lockhart, 2003). However, through the years, professional school counselors have had increasingly important roles when working with students with disabilities (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2004; Lockhart; Milsom, 2002).
More recent amendments to the law extended the education and civil rights of persons with disabilities and changed the name of the law to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (P.L. 101-476, 1990; the reauthorization P.L. 103-17 in 1997; and the reauthorization P.L. 108-446, 2004) (Bowen & Glenn, 1998; Scarborough & Deck, 1998). With these laws, school counselors, as part of the education team, are held responsible for providing preventative and supportive services for students with disabilities (ASCA, 2004; Bowen & Glenn; Milsom, 2002). The U.S. Department of Education (1996) identified school counseling and guidance as one of the three related services most needed by exceptional children and youth (as cited in Bowen & Glenn).
Beginning in 1980, ASCA acknowledged the important role of school counselors in serving students with disabilities by adopting a number of position statements. The most recent statement (adopted in 1999, revised in 2004) specifies that, when appropriate, school counselors collaborate with others by serving on multidisciplinary teams that identify students who may need assessments to determine special needs, assist with establishing and implementing plans for accommodations and modifications, and work with other student-support specialists in the delivery of services (ASCA, 2004). In addition, school counselors provide responsive services such as individual and group counseling, consult with staff and parents to understand the special needs of students, and make referrals to appropriate specialists within the school system and community (ASCA). School counselors also are called to provide assistance with transitions from grade to grade and school level to school level, to help with postsecondary options, and, in general, to advocate for students with special needs (ASCA). …