Role of Parents

In all transition planning models used, students, parents, and school personnel should collaborate in order to develop and implement an effective transition program. Parents and students, when appropriate, make the key decisions related to transition. They should be present to assume this role and prepared to participate in transition planning and team meetings as equal partners with school personnel. Wehmeyer et al. (1999) note that in transition, families should: 

  • be dreamers.
  • expect to talk a lot.
  • ask school personnel to be specific about what is needed.
  • support the student’s self-determination/self-advocacy efforts.
  • keep the focus on present levels of performance and strengths instead of deficits.
  • support the school’s efforts to provide career development and job training. (pp. 39–40)

Most parents are eager to participate in their child’s education, particularly in transition planning. Although it is important for family members to participate at all levels, it is especially important for family members of young children. Wehmeyer et al. (1999) have listed specific expectations for parents in the transition planning process that will enhance their participation in the process.

Role of Students

For students with special needs, participation in transition planning is critical. Students must be willing to participate in planning for their future. Opportunities should be provided for students to actively participate in transition planning meetings and provide suggestions for identifying and accomplishing goals for the future. 

As students mature, their input becomes essential to the decision-making process. However, students would benefit from preparation prior to attending meetings with school personnel and parents. The following suggestions may be helpful in preparing students to actively participate:

  • Advise students of meetings early enough for them to work with family members and teachers to formulate questions and statements of concerns or preferences concerning issues that may be discussed.
  • Advise students of the purpose of the meeting, the general format of the meeting, and those invited to attend and the reason for their attendance.
  • Advise students of the role they will be expected to play and the input that will be sought (for example, why they cannot get their homework done; the type of classroom they prefer; preferred leisure-time activities or club preferences; personal vocational goals; living preferences).
  • If appropriate, provide students with information or questions that they may be asked and provide them with the opportunity to prepare answers.
  • Provide communication skills training specific to the demands of the meeting, including role-playing when appropriate.
  • Have discussions prior to the meeting to determine the student’s emotional status and stress level and to assist the student in preparing emotionally for the event.

During the meeting, the student may need support and encouragement to ensure and enhance active participation. Opportunities to participate can occur when team members solicit input from the student. To assure that the student understands the discussion, information or explanations should be included throughout the meeting. Student participation should be encouraged during the meeting by acknowledging their comments and recognizing that they should have a strong voice in the activities that affect them. Participation is not only a right, but also an opportunity to practice those skills that will be necessary for their independence as an adult.

Age of Majority

Parent participation in the educational planning for their child changes when the child reaches the age of majority (age 18 in most states). At that time the responsibility and rights the parent has assumed for the development and monitoring of their child’s educational program diminishes as those rights transfer to the child. According to IDEA 2004:

Beginning not less than one year before the student reaches the age of majority, a statement must be included in the student’s IEP that he has been informed of his rights and that these rights will be transferred to him upon his reaching the age of majority.

During the year prior to the student’s reaching the age of majority, teachers, parents, and the student should work together to understand the ramifications of this change, and to provide self-advocacy training for the student. 

In some instances, it may be apparent that the student does not have the ability to assume the responsibilities inherent in this change. According to NCSET (2002, p. 4), “for these students, guardianship, conservatorship, or another form of representation by an advocate may be appropriate.” Guardianship is a legal designation in which the individual is rendered legally incompetent and therefore incapable or unable to assume the responsibilities accruing to him/her at the age of majority. If such a designation is made, a guardian, usually a parent, is appointed by the court to assume those legal responsibilities. In some instances, a form of limited guardianship, known as a conservatorship, may be the more appropriate option. The conservator, again usually the parent, is appointed to assume some, but not all, of the responsibilities resulting from the student reaching the age of majority. In this case, the individual retains those rights and responsibilities for which he or she is considered capable of managing.

Role of School Personnel as a Partner

Educators are responsible for facilitating the transition process by encouraging parent and student participation and facilitating their participation in transition planning. Specific strategies will depend on the age of the student and the type of transition being planned, and should be directed by the unique needs of each student and family.