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Section I


This section provides the user with philosophical frameworks for the guide, as well as an introduction to relevant laws. It includes:


The Vision

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
Alice in Wonderland

Transition from school to adult life is an exciting time that is filled with the promise of youthful hopes and dreams. It is also full of uncertainty and turmoil. All students must wrestle with issues such as where to live, whether to work or go to college, and what to do for fun. These decisions are hard for everyone but can be more difficult for students with disabilities. Some students may not have had practice in making decisions, trying new things, or independently seeking assistance. Encouraging students to take the lead in the transition process enables them to develop the decision-making and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in adult life.

Transition from school to adult life is not the only important change that people experience in their lives. If you think back to the last major decision you made (for instance, changing jobs, deciding to marry or divorce, deciding to have children or not, or moving), it affected many areas of your life. Transitions involve the work one does, where and with whom one lives, what one does during one's leisure time, and the type of learning, training, and experiences one may need or want.

Learning how to plan for transitions before leaving school is a useful skill for all students, now and in the future. Teaching students how to weigh choices and make decisions is a crucial practice that will ultimately assist them to live more interdependent and fulfilling lives.

To achieve a transition into adulthood that will fulfill students' dreams and visions requires committed action from many participants. Transition, as described in this manual, is an outcome-oriented process that calls for the collaboration of many individuals and results in the student taking control of his/her own life. The planning process belongs to the student; it is, after all, his/her life. The student charts the direction and it is up to others involved to ensure that the student has the skills or supports necessary to make decisions, learn from mistakes, and celebrate successes.

Transition means different things to different people. Outcomes may include having a place to live, friends with whom to "hang out," a lover, a job, community involvement, and a means of financially supporting oneself. From a very early age, students must be encouraged to dream, to explore various ideas, to take chances. Their decisions must be supported and nurtured by families, friends, teachers, and other professionals.

Successful transition is a cooperative process that involves student choice, parent involvement, informal supports, and use of community resources, as well as more formal procedures and interagency collaboration. Recent trends on both the state and national levels encourage this kind of integrated, cooperative approach. Initiatives related to the overall improvement of education include school reform, School-to-Work, Goals-2000, family and school partnerships, school and business partnerships, and the development of inclusive schools. Linking these initiatives together can reallocate resources, create a forum for sharing a broad range of expertise, and help bridge the gap between regular and special education. This process ultimately results in mobilizing the entire community to build the capacity of the local school to address the transition needs of all students.


"For too long, young people with disabilities have been excluded from the curricula, service delivery, and post-secondary opportunities available to nondisabled youth." [Wehman,P. (1992) Life Beyond The Classroom. Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes Publishing Co. p. 5] If optimal ways to smooth transition into adulthood are to occur, then parents and professionals must take a closer look at what is happening to all youth in the United States in terms of work opportunity and the likelihood for successful integration into the community. Increased demands for a diversified work force will occur by the 21st century. We must ensure that students are equipped and informed to participate and contribute in business, society, and industry so that they too can better their lives and feel satisfaction from their contributions.

Vignettes of Transition

These examples may seem quite ordinary, but they can take years of thinking, talking, planning, and action to be realized.



Students: Each student is the ultimate expert on his/her dreams and visions for the future and should be central to the planning process. Transitioning from school to adult life and planning for the future can be exciting and perhaps a bit scary. Finding ways to achieve even the simplest of dreams may seem daunting. Building support among the important people in one's life will ease tensions and create a smoother, stronger process.

Family Members: The transition from school life to adult life for one's child can be anxiety-ridden. Parents need information, resources, and lots of examples of students who have entered into adult life in positive ways that contribute to families and the community. They may need to know that supports will be in place for their child so they can hand over some of their responsibilities. They may also need support to deal with their feelings about their child growing up. Family members are rich resources of knowledge; their ideas, opinions, and dreams are vital considerations in a student's transition process.

Teachers: Teachers and other education professionals need support and access to get information about resources and state-of-the-art planning strategies. They also need encouragement to carry out progressive educational practices with their students. Providing access, resources, and supports for students and their families is a crucial role in the transition process. Teachers can be catalysts for action and support providers as families tackle the emotional process of planning for the future.

Human Service Agencies: Community-based professionals such as the local Arc and vocational service provider are aware of the needs and resources of the community (e.g., job demand/supply) and of adults with disabilities within that community. They can assist through passing on information relevant to the community and by building supportive partnerships and relationships with schools, individuals with disabilities, local businesses, recreation providers, public and human services, and the local political base.

Everyone: Being familiar with federal and state laws and procedures may facilitate a smoother transition process. Knowing about existing programs and services may help as well. However, to plan for an individualized and creative transition in which individuals can become truly included in their community, students, parents, teachers, and community-based professionals must depend on more than the law and existing service slots.

The "But" and "What If . . ."

Discussing the future in a creative planning process may not be easy for a cooperative TEAM (see Appendix VIII for a definition). Some TEAM members may want to wait until the student finishes school to begin planning. They may think that since special services already exist for individuals with disabilities there is no need to assist in including them in society at large. These people often counter arguments with a "but" or "what if?" They may be overly cautious and suggest reasons why your proposal will not work. Some of those people might even be reading this manual now and thinking to themselves that everything stated here is wonderful but overly idealisticand it certainly will never work with their students.

So how do we get the skeptics to take a leap of faith into new ways of planning for transition? Some will never be convinced to share your enthusiasm. However, you can sometimes gain their trust by setting an example. By working toward goals that create positive outcomes and by offering assistance when it is needed, you can slowly show doubters that new ideas can work. You might try:


Additional Ideas on Transition

In addition to the above suggestions, transition planning must also: Choices are an important ingredient for successful planning. Choices are not the same as options. An option is limited to the range of what already exists. A true choice must be based on individual preferences regardless of the range of options available. If individuals do not have a wide variety of experiences or are not aware of their options, they will not have the ability to formulate dreams because they will not know what is possible. If they are not free to make their own choices, then they are not free to live their own lives. The students and families need information and support so their necessary services can begin immediately after finishing school, and so they know where to go for information to accommodate changes in their lives in the future.

In addition, when a student in transition takes on a leadership role in the process, seeking assistance to overcome barriers and finding creative solutions to assist in reaching his/her outcomes, the student is more likely to achieve his/her desired goals.
Finally, planning for the future, almost by definition, is a flexible process. New opportunities arise. People learn, grow, and change their minds. Dreams change. Transition planning must be tailored to the individual student. It must be based on dreamsnot limited to existing services. If only services that already exist are considered, it becomes difficult to support individual choices. If the services for the four people in the scenarios described earlier were to be based only on what is currently available, some of their dreams would very likely not be realized.

We all try to plan or at least prepare for the major events in our lives. We require varying amounts of support to achieve our dreams and shape our lives in meaningful ways. People who are young, inexperienced in decision making, overly dependent, or who have disabilities, may need assistance to learn effective ways to plan. Now is the time to begin.

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