Future Reflections Winter 2014 TRANSITIONS
by Lydia Schuck
From the Editor: Lydia Schuck works as a technical assistance provider for a federally funded project that helps school districts support transition programs for youth with disabilities. She is the mother of a twenty-year-old blind daughter, a past president of the Michigan Parents of Blind Children, and an active member of the Lansing Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. This is the second in a series of five articles that she plans to write for Future Reflections. The first in the series, "Starting the Transition Conversation," appeared in Future Reflections, Volume 32, Number 3, Summer 2013.
You and your child have probably talked and dreamed together about what he or she wants to be some day. Did she say she wants to drive race cars? Did he tell you he hopes to be a singing sensation? Both of these careers may be possible, but they're not very likely. You may be tempted to say, "You can't really do that." We often let young people who are sighted grow up with their dreams, helping them become more realistic as they mature. Let's do the same for our blind kids!
How can we help all of our children, including those with very significant disabilities, keep their goals maturing as they themselves mature? One way is to have an ongoing conversation about the future. Whenever you find the opportunity, share your own story. Tell your children how you selected your path in life. Give some detail about the parts of your journey that you could control and those that were basically out of your hands.
The other half of the conversation is your child's story. Listen, encourage, and nudge your child gently to think of more and related ideas. Watch movies that may help the family learn about the work experience. One that I recommend is The Pursuit of Happyness, in which the main character has a strong motivation to find work. The movie Temple Grandin tells the true story of a young woman with autism who uses her unique interests to create a career for herself. Some reality shows may be helpful, and YouTube has a wealth of videos that show people doing their jobs.
If your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), planning for the transition to adulthood should be a part of his special education services at school. The IEP document for a student age sixteen or older must include "appropriate, measureable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessment" (IDEA 2004, 34 CFR 300.320(b)). This section of the IEP includes a record of the student's goals for the future in at least two areas, employment and education. If it is appropriate for your child, there also should be an independent living goal. Many transition professionals also consider a goal in community participation, which includes recreation, leisure activities such as hobbies, and community activities such as using the library or post office.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also requires the IEP to show evidence that the student underwent at least one transition assessment. The transition assessment is intended to help the student discover his or her strengths, needs, preferences, and interests as he or she transitions to adulthood. Some schools use just one assessment, which is often too general to be very helpful. However, that one assessment is enough to satisfy the IDEA requirement. If no transition assessment is mentioned at the IEP meeting, the document and process are not compliant with the law, and you should inquire about assessment.
Assessment is a measurement at a point in time, somewhat like a snapshot. It tells a number of things about one moment, so each year a new assessment should be conducted. Conducting an assessment is a bit like measuring a room for a new carpet. You find out the size of the room, which is critical before you buy new carpeting, but the measurements do not tell you whether the old carpet is bad in some way. Similarly, they do not reveal whether the new carpet will be an improvement.
No value judgment is attached to a measurement. It is just what it is. A transition assessment does not assign points or a grade to your child. It is separate from any academic classes your child may take. The assessment is not an evaluation used in making any high stakes decision about promotion, graduation, or admission to college. The purpose of the assessment is to help you, your child, and the school team understand your child's strengths, needs, preferences, and interests. You and your child can use this information as you talk about the future, and it may help your child develop his goals. It may be useful to talk with the teacher to find out if there are other assessments that would add to your child's goal-setting process. The school should use the information to plan, with you and your child, services and activities for the next school year.
Although goals in employment and education, and possibly independent living skills, are the only ones that are required in the IEP, community participation is often considered as well. Services and activities to help the child reach his or her goals are required by law to be documented in the IEP (IDEA 2004, 34 CFR 300.43(a)). These services and activities are often the next steps on the way to reaching specific goals. They may be provided by the school, by an agency such as a state commission for the blind, or by the family. These services and activities are recorded so that all members of the IEP team can see the full scope of your child's plan.
The services and activities section of the IEP document is also a good place to list any activities with the National Federation of the Blind in which you and your child may be involved. You may want to identify someone in your local NFB chapter or state affiliate who would like to help your child learn some independent living skills, or someone whom your child may be able to shadow for a day at work. Attending chapter meetings is a way to form relationships with blind role models, to learn how an organization runs, and to gain political awareness. (These meetings can also be very encouraging to parents!)
While it may be difficult for your child to achieve his goal to become a pro baseball announcer, there are many related jobs that may interest him. He might consider local announcing or other radio work, or he might enjoy writing about sports for the newspaper. A sixth grader should be allowed as much wild dreaming as he or she likes. As the child matures, though, it is most productive if you and the school guide and enhance the goal-setting process, forming a realistic picture over time. Keep thinking about the long-term goal, while always remembering that it may be difficult to define the next baby step in the process. Keep the conversation about goals alive, and always ask yourself, what's next?
Josie took two formal assessments and has had good informal conversations, after which her teacher made notes. These conversations were a form of transition assessment as well. Here is a summary of Josie's assessment results.
Based on the transition assessments and her family's information, Josie, currently a tenth grader, developed the following goals.
Employment: Josie will job shadow a friend who works as a veterinarian. (Her parents will arrange this.) Josie will also spend a day with a friend who uses public transportation to get to work in a downtown office. (Parents will arrange this.)
Education: Josie will go with her class to the community college to visit the admissions office and the office of services for students with disabilities. She will have lunch and visit with students in a freshman writing class. (The school will arrange this.) Josie is taking health and hygiene as a junior next year, which will help her learn more about caring for herself. She will be able to apply some of her learning to taking care of pets at home. (School will arrange this).
Independent Living: While Josie plans to live at home immediately after high school, her parents are concerned that she no longer has a cooking class or a simple home maintenance class. Josie's parents will look into having Josie attend a summer program at a center for the blind. Josie may be able to learn some of these skills by spending time with friends from the National Federation of the Blind. (Parents will arrange this, and the school will contact Josie's rehabilitation counselor.)
Community Participation: Josie will go with her parents when they vote this year (parents will arrange). She is going to the community center for a sewing class. Josie is working with the Center for Independent Living to identify other opportunities for leisure activities (agency will arrange). Josie will continue her involvement with the National Association of Blind Students through its email forum (Josie will arrange).
If you would like to see more examples of transition planning, especially those for youth with significant disabilities, point your web browser to <http://www.nsttac.org/ content/web-based-examples-and-nonexamples-sppapr-indicator-13-checklist-overview>. Case studies of students with various disabilities, many that are more significant, are used to show examples and nonexamples of goals.
To browse more generally about transition, go to the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center, <www.nsttac.org> and look around. Your state may also have a transitions website. The NSTTAC website has an interactive map that may help you to find resources in your state.