Virginia Commonwealth University
September 17, 2009
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By Renee Z. Bullano, M.Ed.

This is the fifth in a series of newsletter articles describing the transition IEP process. In past issues, we discussed the age-appropriate transition process, postsecondary goal development and the present level of academic achievement and functional performance. This article will address the process of designing transition services to prepare students for the successful movement from school to adulthood (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Transition process

Transition Process Chart

What activities will best promote your students’ movement to post-school activities?

As you work with students and their families to address transition to post-school activities, think of the environments into which these young adults will enter. No matter where students end up after they leave the protective world of high school, preparation is essential. The language included in IDEA 2004 (see Figure 2 below), indicates the seven domains that must be considered when planning with students and their families for transition to post-school activities.

male teenage dog walker returning a dog to its owner

Obtaining job experiences working with animals prepares Larry for his goal of post-school employment in veterinary medicine.

One of the questions that faces all educators involved in the transition process is whether students need to participate now in activities that will prepare them for additional education, employment, living on their own or accessing community services and supports as adults. By including language regarding these types of post-school activities, lawmakers recognized that many students with disabilities need practice in these areas in order to make a successful transition to adulthood. Thus, transition was strengthened and consideration of specific transition services was required under IDEA 2004.

These transition services are a set of coordinated activities focused on obtaining results that occur over the period of time from when students are 14 until they exit the public school system. Transition services address needs that do not require annual IEP goals. These activities are short-term events and often one-time occurrences. This does not mean that they stand alone; these are coordinated activities that all contribute to a student achieving his or her specified post-school outcomes. This means that the set of activities are individualized to meet the unique needs of each student. One might consider transition activities as practice for becoming an adult.

How will you coordinate a set of activities that will improve your students’ achievements in both academic subjects and life management? With your students’ postsecondary goals in mind, predict the barriers that might arise in accomplishing these goals. Foreseeing potential barriers helps practitioners aid students in designing plans that enable them to overcome any barriers and realize their dreams.

These plans can include various activities that fall into seven categories (Figure 2). Plans should reflect consideration of how students might benefit from activities in the areas of instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other adult living objectives and, if appropriate, daily living skills and functional vocational evaluations. Although not listed as categories, you must also consider planning courses of study, diploma choices and agency linkages when designing transition services. These activities, as well as the specific classes in which students enroll and the adult services linkages are created, will enrich their educational experiences and potentially enhance their quality of life after high school.

Figure 2

Transition services mean a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that:

  1. Is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living or community participation.
  2. Is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences and interests, and includes:
  1. Instruction
  2. Related services
  3. Community experiences
  4. The development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives
  5. If appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and provision of a functional vocational evaluation

IDEA 2004 §300.43(a)(2)

An example of transition services is presented in Figure 3. This matrix illustrates a process to assist a student, Larry, in the fulfillment of the goals he has set for his future as an adult. Note the activities and categories that have been considered when planning a successful transition for Larry. The activities take into account his postsecondary goals of completing a post-school program in veterinary science and obtaining employment in the field, as well as the activities of daily life and adult living. Note that the transition services designed for and by Larry are not annual goals. He may have annual goals included in his IEP, but these activities are not included among them. Instead, Larry will identify academic and functional annual goals related to his postsecondary goals.

Figure 3

Transition services that will prepare Larry for success in adulthood

Larry’s needs as identified in the present level of performance

Activities that Larry will complete
Note: these are not annual goals

Support offered to Larry in order to complete these activities

Larry’s postsecondary employment goal is to be employed full time, working with animals. He needs to understand the employment-related rights and protections provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Maintain animal-related job experience (employment activity)

Interview a representative of the Virginia Office of Protections and Advocacy (instructional activity)

Larry, employer and parents

Larry will use contact information provided by a case manager to set up an appointment with VOPA representative.

Larry’s postsecondary education goal is to complete course work to obtain a veterinary degree. He needs to understand how supports may be assessed at a college or university.

Enroll in SAT preparation classes (instructional activity)

Attend College 4 U conference (instructional activity)

Guidance counselor provides information. Parents and Larry complete enrollment application and pay fee. Larry actively participates.

Transition specialist provides application; parents complete and submit along with fee.

Larry has strong positive feelings about helping animals. He expressed an interest in becoming an animal advocate.

Join SPCA and apply to the board as a student representative (community participation)

Larry and SPCA associates

Larry’s parents have required him to wash and dry his own clothing. He has a strong desire to meet success as he launders his favorite jeans. Larry recently damaged a new pair by adding bleach and using the wrong washer and dryer settings.

Larry will create a chart on the computer listing each clothing item, laundry product to be used and the corresponding washer and dryer settings. He will practice with the help of his parents until he has the confidence to do laundry on his own (daily living skills).

Larry and his parents

Larry wishes to earn his drivers’ license within the next year.

Larry will enroll in drivers’ education and behind-the-wheel training with a local commercial driving school (adult-living objective).

Larry, his parents and commercial driving school personnel

Larry is pursuing a standard diploma.

Larry’s schedule will reflect course work and credits that will count toward a standard diploma (courses of study).

Larry, his parents and guidance counselor

Larry has an open case with the Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS) for assistance with employment-related issues.

Larry will meet with his assigned DRS representative. This person will also be invited to Larry’s IEP meeting (agency linkage).

Larry, his parents and DRS representative

A coordinated set of transition activities assists students like Larry in preparing for adulthood by providing meaningful opportunities for skill building and practice. The transition activities related to instruction that will improve the chances of success for Larry are: 1) meeting with a representative of the Virginia Office of Protections and Advocacy to learn employment-related rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 2) participating in SAT preparation classes and 3) attending a college-preview program such as the local College 4 U event.

Larry will benefit from the employment activity of maintaining his job at the local pet shop. Larry’s work at this pet shop has evoked in him strong feelings of compassion for all animals. His membership on the board of the SPCA is a community living activity from which Larry benefits now and also can continue after high school.

Larry wants a driver’s license so that he can be as independent as possible. Enrolling in drivers’ education classes will fulfill one of his adult living objectives. Another example of independence is taking care of one’s clothing. Larry has learned that he needs to develop strategies to improve selected daily living skills. Therefore, an activity that can be completed to increase Larry’s chances of success in adulthood is to practice doing his own laundry with the assistance of his parents and a self-created chart.

Without a planned sequence of classes throughout Larry’s high school career, his postsecondary goals of obtaining animal science education and employment will not be realized. Larry’s course of study must be mapped out well in advance so that he earns the necessary credits toward a standard or advanced diploma. Opening a case with the Department of Rehabilitative Services is an agency linkage that would also benefit Larry now and post school as he learns to compensate for his disabilities in the arenas of postsecondary education and employment.

All of life’s transitions require purposeful planning. Transition from the school environment to the community or other adult environment can be challenging for Larry and many other students with disabilities. Effective transition services and activities will increase the likelihood of maximum independence and positive postsecondary outcomes for all students.

To learn more about transition services, contact Renee Bullano at



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