ABSTRACT.- Participant observation was conducted for 1 year with six mildly learning handicapped young adults following their graduation from high school. Close attention was paid to the ways in which they managed the transition out of school and into more adult roles. During this year, all six floundered from job to job, class to class, and school to school. They expressed discontent and frustration with their present situation. They were at a loss to plan for the future and maintained an unrealistic appraisal of their skills. Their sense of self waxed and waned in keeping with their prospects, and the patience and frustration of family members vacillated as well. Little research literature tells us how individuals with mild learning handicaps manage the transition out of school and into more adult roles. The populations of handicapped young adults leaving school today represent the first groups of students to have received extensive mandated special education services during their school career. Further, the provisions of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) allowed for a close link between the school and family and provided families with a firm base upon which to function and feel secure about the immediate future. Once the child comes of age and departs from school, families experience an abrupt cutoff of this long-term resource and support (Johnson, Bruininks, & Thurlow, 1987). The mildly handicapped individual is set loose in the community to test the waters of young adulthood without further mandated guidance or support services.
More severely handicapped young persons, when leaving school, have a number of services to choose from that encourage and support their continued development. They may enter a sheltered workshop, an adult training center, or a supervised community residence (Parmenter, 1986). Those with mild handicaps, who have the potential to become contributing members of mainstream society, have far fewer options available. Some mildly handicapped individuals who demonstrate impaired adaptive behavior and IQ scores below 70 are eligible for some postschool support services such as Supplementary Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid benefits; these services are not available for those with slightly higher lQs and more adaptive social skills. Other services, such as vocational or independence skills training programs, may be attainable through the Department of Rehabilitation and community colleges-although the degree to which such programs assist the mildly handicapped person's adaptation is uncertain. For example, when the training program is completed or once the individual is placed in a job or independent living situation, follow-up is usually time limited; counselors are not available indefinitely to help with on-going problems or intermittent crises (Rusch, 1986).
In addition, some mildly handicapped young adults choose not to seek postschool support services. Many of these youths report a desire to shed what they perceive as a stigmatized association with
special education" and shy away from continued contact with agencies and services for persons with special needs (Zetlin & Turner, 1984). At this point, there are almost no data available describing what the process of community adaptation is for these mildly handicapped young adults upon departure from school.
The following study follows the life course of six mildly learning handicapped young adults for I year following high school graduation. All six were participants in a larger investigation that examined the everyday lives of mildly handicapped and nonhandicapped adolescents. The overall goal of the research was to understand the problems of adolescence from the viewpoint of the adolescents themselves. Because these six members had graduated, we continued to document their experiences as they worked toward more adult status in relation to family and community. METHODS Six mildly learning handicapped students comprised the sample, three males and three females. …