What Transition Programs and Services are Available? (page 2)
Results from outcome studies of adults with learning disabilities as well as adults with other types of disabilities (e.g., mental retardation, emotional or behavioral disorders) have done much to convince policy makers that major initiatives need to be directed toward transition programming. There have been a series of federal government initiatives to strengthen educational programming for secondary-school students with disabilities to enable them to make a more successful transition to adulthood.
Prior to the passage of p.L. 94-142 in 1975, public school programming for students with disabilities beyond elementary-school age was minimal. This law mandated that students with disabilities receive an appropriate education until graduation from high school or until 21 years of age. In the mid-1980s, the federal government announced the "transition initiative" (Will, 1984). Based on this call for action, Congress passed several pieces of legislation, the most important of which was IDEA (P.L. 101-476, passed in 1990 and amended in 1997 as P.L. 105-17), which mandates that schools provide transition services for all students with disabilities.
In order to ensure proper and timely planning for the implementation of transition services, the law requires that a transition plan be integrated into each student's individualized education program (IEP). IDEA requires the IEP to contain the following:
- beginning at age 14 and updated annually, a statement of the transition service needs of the child under the applicable components of the child's IEP that focuses on the child's courses of study (such as participation in advanced-placement courses or a vocational education program)
- beginning at age 16 (or younger, if determined appropriate by the IEP Team), a statement of needed transition services for the child, including, when appropriate, a statement of the interagency responsibilities or any needed linkages. (IDEA Amendments of 1997, Sec. 6l4(d)(I)(A)vii, p. 55)
By mandating that the transition plan be part of a student's IEP, Congress has underscored the importance of each student's need for a unique transition experience. With the wide variety of employment and postsecondary experiences, as well as the many living opportunities available, individualization becomes increasingly important as the student with learning disabilities progresses through secondary school. As Shapiro and Rich (1999) state, "transition programming must not only be comprehensive but individualized, based on personal needs, interests, and preferences" (p. 142). The needs of many will change as they progress through secondary school. Adolescence is a time of rapid physical and emotional alterations. Students at this age frequently modify their vocational and educational aspirations, as the following quote indicates:
I've wanted to be a teacher since I was in second grade, but when I met my friend, Ashleigh, and found out that her father writes for the newspaper, I thought I wanted to do that. Maybe it would be more fun to be a reporter on TV... I'm not sure...I would love to work with famous people.
Interagency Collaboration and Service Delivery
Implicit in current conceptualizations of transition services is the idea of a coordinated set of services. This coordination
helps ensure that transition outcomes, service needs, and expectations for how they will be provided are communicated among and agreed to by key participants .... It also guards against duplication of services and, therefore, the more unfortunate occurrence of students who "fall through the cracks" and fail to access needed services. (DeStefano & Wermuth, 1992, p. 540)
For example, vocational rehabilitation personnel might be involved for those headed toward employment, as might college representatives for those headed toward college. Although it may not always be practical for college personnel to participate in IEP meetings, some have noted that if a student plans to attend a college nearby, it can be beneficial for the college learning disabilities specialist to become involved as early as possible in the transition process (Aune & Johnson, 1992). This gives the specialist an opportunity to inform the student and the family of the college's services and expectations while learning more about the student's interests.
Social Skills and Self-Advocacy Training
One of the most persistent problem areas for students with learning disabilities is that of social skills. Because social skills deficits can have profound effects on adults' functioning at work and in college, many authorities point to the need for social skills training as a part of transition programming. Unfortunately, social skills are not easily trained, and many adults with learning disabilities continue to face problems in interacting with friends and colleagues. One of the problems in training social skills for transition is that although identifying the social skills necessary to function in school is difficult, doing so may be even more difficult in the workplace. Among other things, there is a wider variety of work settings, rules of the workplace may be less well defined, and feedback for poor performance may be more subtle (Mellard & Hazel, 1992).
Social skills are also extremely important for successful transition to college. Students with or without disabilities who are able to interact with other students and faculty are in a better position to be successful in college. It may be even more necessary that students with learning disabilities display good social skills. For example, being able to act as their own advocates serves college students with learning disabilities well, and being able to talk with professors about their learning disabilities in order to receive accommodations requires a great deal of social poise and tact. Because learning disabilities are "invisible" and poorly understood by so many, an articulate spokesperson is often needed to explain their ramifications. Students who are either too aggressive or too timid may have great difficulty talking with professors about their learning disabilities. Shannon's mother has some concerns:
I want my daughter to attend college, but I'm worried. I've been so involved in her schooling. I make sure she gets her homework done ... I remind her about upcoming tests. Have I done too much? Will someone be there for her in college? Should she be able to do it on her own? What about her social skills? Will she be able to control her anger? How will she come across to her peers and professors?
-Kerrie Ireland, Shannon's mother
Many authorities have pointed out that secondary-school students need to take the initiative in developing their transition programming. Being actively involved in their own transition planning does not come easily for some students. Some authorities (e.g., Scanlon & Mellard, 2002) think it is important that self-advocacy be a part of transition training in high school, and there is some evidence that self-advocacy can be taught (Durlak, Rose, & Bursuck, 1994; Lock & Layton, 2001). According to Skinner (1998), "Students become self-advocates when they (a) demonstrate understanding of their disability, (b) are aware of their legal rights, and (c) demonstrate competence in communicating rights and needs to those in positions of authority" (p. 279). One team of researchers taught students with learning disabilities to state the nature of their disability and its impact on academic and social functioning and to identify accommodations and strategies for implementing them with their general education teachers (Durlak et al., 1994). Another team of researchers successfully implemented a self-awareness and self-advocacy program for persons with learning disabilities who had graduated from high school and were enrolled in college in a nondegree program focused on achieving independence (Roffman, Herzog, & Wershba-Gershon, 1994).
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