Promote high expectations in transition planning
A 12th-grade student with autism and a learning disability excels in her internship at a local animal shelter. The internship coordinator suggests she apply to a two-year veterinary technician program at a nearby community college.
However, the student doesn't think she is capable of going to college. Moreover, she never learned how to take public transportation, and the thought of living on campus away from her parents scares her.
"Students with disabilities often possess an inherent sense of self-doubt as they grow up comparing themselves to their peers, feeling as they don't measure up somehow," said Pat Hoffman, transition coordinator and Committee on Special Education chairperson for the Pioneer Central School District in Yorkshire, N.Y.
Alleviate such worries by helping students understand the skills they will need to be successful in college or the workplace. Once students with disabilities realize that they possess many strengths that may not have been recognized or assessed in a traditional school setting, they become more driven and place a higher expectation for success on themselves, Hoffman said.
Follow these tips to create a culture of high expectations for students throughout the transition planning process:
Keep expectations high, yet reasonable
Keith Ozols, Oregon's statewide youth transition programs coordinator, often works with students who say they want to work in the NBA or become a YouTube star. Instead of discouraging such dreams, encourage the student to research what it takes to get a particular job, he said. What kind of experience or education will he need? What is the career path to that job?
Job shadowing and internships also provide students with a real-life vision of the expectations in a particular career, Hoffman said. Throughout the transition process, the student's IEP team should guide the student "in a completely honest fashion, without mincing words or sugarcoating the requirements," she said. Be clear about the requirements for a specific career path to help students self-evaluate.
Help students take charge of transition process
Engage students in transition activities from an early age, Hoffman said. Suggest relevant classes and provide appropriate academic supports. Update the transition plan annually to reflect new interests and goals. Be responsive to students' concerns and questions. Connect students to local vocational services agencies to help them understand the supports available in the community after they graduate.
Also, advise students to set at least two goals that will help them get closer to their desired postsecondary education or career, Ozols said. This could involve volunteer work, job shadowing, internships, or life skills classes, for example. Take students to visit a college campus to see how they can be successful in a college environment, he said.
Work with parents to calibrate expectations
Parents of students with disabilities sometimes have limiting beliefs, such as, "My child could never work in the community independently," Ozols said. Such beliefs often get passed on to the student, who may internalize these low expectations.
To combat this thinking, work closely with local adult agencies throughout the transition process so that parents can see the supports available to their child after graduation, Ozols said. Schedule parent information sessions at your school to provide information about these agencies. Take photos or videos of a student doing a job and share them with parents, as a picture is worth a thousand words, Hoffman said. By maintaining a collaborative effort between students, parents, and outside agencies, parents will begin to realize that everyone has the best interest of their child at heart, she said.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, parents' expectations can sometimes be unrealistic, Hoffman said. Establish a relationship early on with parents to be able to communicate honestly about their child's abilities and interests.
"If a shared vision is not established early on, the student [may] experience unnecessary stress," Hoffman said.
Students with disabilities often have a network of support throughout their years in the school system, so the thought of living independently can be scary, Ozols said. Integrate students into the community as much as possible before they leave high school so they don't have anxiety about moving on.
For example, have students participate in a work experience at a local business instead of in the school's cafeteria or office, to help them adjust to working outside the school environment, Ozols said. Teach life skills that will help students on the job, such as how to take public transportation, buy lunch, read street signs, or answer the phone. Such training will help students feel confident in their abilities, Ozols said.
In addition, provide training and reinforcement to the student's aides and job coaches.
"It is crucial that they 'work themselves out of a job,' to the extent that safety allows, by building the required independence the student requires for successful entry into the workforce," Hoffman said.