Transition to Adulthood

Transition: Planning for Life Beyond High School

Transition is the official term for the coordinated, systematic set of activities that creates a bridge between school and adult life for students with disabilities age 14 to 21. Transition services help students become a part of the adult community – get ready for work and other aspects of adult life, obtain further education, etc.

The Transition years (age 14 to 21) can be a challenging time for parents of students with disabilities. Some of the questions parents ask include:

  • What will my child do after graduation?
  • Will he or she be able to get a job?
  • Which agencies will help my child?
  • Should my child receive more education or training? What is available and how much does it cost? Is help available for the cost?
  • Will my child be able to live independently in the community? Which agencies can help me in this process?
  • Which public benefits will my child be eligible for? Will working affect his/her public benefits?
  • What supports are available for adults with the most significant disabilities?

Transition Starts at Age 14

Transition is a requirement of federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act [IDEIA], 2004) and the Pennsylvania Special Education Regulations and Standards.

School districts are responsible for the education of students with disabilities through age 21, unless the student graduates before age 21.

Beginning at age 14, students with disabilities must have a Transition Plan with measurable annual goals as part of the Individual Education Plan (IEP). Between the age of 14 and graduation, the Transition plan may change as the achievement and interests of the student change. But even if the student does not know what he/she wants to do after graduation, a Transition plan must be developed. 

Transition-age students should participate in the IEP process to the extent that they are able. Participation helps students define realistic outcomes and identify adults who can help them reach their goals after high school.  Participating in the IEP process also helps students learn to advocate for themselves. Even if the student does not attend the IEP meeting, the school must take steps to ensure that the student’s preferences and interests are considered.

Ongoing Transition Planning: Ages 15 – 21

To prepare your child for post-high school activities and services, make sure that psychological evaluations are up to date. The college admission and placement processes for students with disabilities, as well as most transition and vocational programs, often require the results of these tests to be less than three years old of the time of application.

Because of the complexities of public benefit systems for adults with disabilities (Social Security, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Medicaid waivers, etc.), the student, parents, educators, and other professionals must work collaboratively on a Transition plan that includes all components of young adult life. This collaborative planning ensures that the necessary services are in place and that the student develops the skills needed to be successful upon graduation.

During the Transition years, students and their parents must learn about public benefits for adults with disabilities (Social Security, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Medicaid waivers, etc.) and the community agencies that may be part of the young adult’s life.

See Learning about Transition in this section of the Guide and Parent Education in the Family Resources section of this Guide for organizations that offer trainings and workshops.)