Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Youth Participation in Transition Planning: Youth's Participation in Their Transition Meetings Encouraged Them to Think about What They Wanted from Adult Life and How Their School Might Help Them Achieve Those Goals

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Youth Participation in Transition Planning: Youth's Participation in Their Transition Meetings Encouraged Them to Think about What They Wanted from Adult Life and How Their School Might Help Them Achieve Those Goals

Article excerpt

In 2004, Congress added new transition requirements to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), striving to improve youth outcomes after high school. These new requirements say that the Individual Education Program (IEP) must include "appropriate measurable postsecondary goals" and the "transition services ... needed to assist the child in reaching those goals." They also give students the right to participate in planning once their IEP meetings focus on transition from school. It has been 10 years since Congress made this change. But what does it mean for a student to participate in transition meetings?

Fifty-two youth with a variety of disabilities (learning, social, intellectual, and sensory) and their parents shared their transition experiences with me. Youth played a wide range of roles during IEP meetings, ranging from not attending at all to playing an active decision-making role. Overall, there were four levels of youth participation: nonparticipation, technical participation, vocal participation, and empowered participation.

Just over one-quarter of the young people were "nonparticipants" who did not attend the meetings. Nonparticipants were more likely than other youth to have intellectual disabilities. Some nonparticipants did not want to attend the meetings because they felt that they were boring, while others were happy with having their parents represent them. For example, Sean* was content because his parents attended the meetings and his IEP supported his goal of working after high school. A few didn't participate because their parents felt that it wasn't appropriate. Janet, who had two daughters with autism, explained why she had not brought her daughter Cali to her IEP meetings the year before, when transition planning began: "Cali will attend her first IEP the upcoming year. And the only reason for that, as well, I feel that ... my girls, they grew up, they know, you know, there's some difference, but they didn't grow up under an umbrella like, 'Oh, I'm autistic.' They didn't grow up with a rubber stamp like, 'Oh, this is ...' So for them, you know, it's just like when you talk to kids at certain stages about certain things. You know what I mean?" Janet worried that the autism label could affect Cali's perception of her own abilities because of how she heard school staff discussing her condition, and delayed Cali's participation until she was older.

Youth who were "technical participants" attended at least part of the meetings but did not speak. About one-fifth of the youth were technical participants. For Ricardo, who was not verbal, this was maximum participation. His mother Maria, explained: "Yes, he was [at the meeting]. I know his right. They bring him and he was a member. The teacher bring him and he was sitting in the wheelchair and the teacher put something like a little kinds of cookie and he was calm and focused and focused on the meeting ... He's part of the whole thing, I guess." Some youth did not want to attend their IEP meetings and refused to do more than be in the room. Damien, who had been labeled as having behavioral issues, resented having to be there. He said that the adults talked at, not with, him: "I think everyone has something to contribute to me, like they speak to me at those meetings." His response was to tune out. "I remember one meeting I went to a while ago, I was sitting there and I was really tired, and I just fell asleep like this on the back of this chair. It gets that horrible, I just can't stay awake." A few "technical participants" were frustrated about not having a voice. Darren, who was hard of hearing, explained that the adults in the room spoke to one another, preventing him from being able to follow the discussion. He "mostly sat and listened," feeling excluded from the conversation about him and his future.

Youth who were "vocal participants" spoke for at least part of the meeting. They reported being asked about their vision of the future and specific goals during the meetings. …

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