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5 Ways to Increase the Effectiveness of Your IEP Transition Plans

At a Glance

IEP transition plans help students build the bridge from high school to adulthood.

Having an effective transition plan can a difference fin setting goals, making decisions, and the transition activities implemented.

Most IEP teams do not receive a lot of training and ongoing support around transition planning.

Do you have a student with an IEP who is approaching 14 or 16 years old? It is time to bring in the transition plan! Make sure to double check on the required age in your area/district/and state.

The majority of special education teachers do not have extensive training on transition plans - and very likely did not even have a class on transition planning in their teacher prep university programs.

From there, the guideposts are far and few between around what transition planning should look like: 

  • The major requirements are listed in the Individuals with Education Disabilities Act (IDEA), which is the United States federal legislation around special education services. 
  • Your district or school may have some IEP compliance requirements around transition planning, but then that may be it for most folks and IEP teams.

So it may seem like you're.a ship out in the ocean looking for a lighthouse, and just trying to stay the course. But it can be difficult to tell if your transition plans are effective and supportive of your students' interests and goals. In which, they are most definitely supposed to be!

In this blog post, we're going to outline 5 ways you can increase the effectiveness of transition plans for each of your students and to make sure you're staying course along with students' interests and goals. After all, they're the ones getting ready for life after high school!

1. Seek Input from Students and Caregivers

Students should be leading and shaping their transition plan as they go through their final years of school.

Ideally, we'd love for a student to participate and even lead their IEP meeting. But we know that this is not always the case, and it's also not the only place they can share their input.

We're talking student input triangulated from a variety of sources:

  • informal interviews
  • interest inventories
  • career interest inventories
  • informal transition assessments
  • formal transition assessments
  • reflections

We also recommend sending similar types of inventories, transition assessments, reflections, etc. but caregiver versions to caregivers and families. Caregivers may provide another perspective from the home and community setting, provide additional observations and input on independent living skills, and more valuable information for the complete student profile. This may be especially helpful for families who will be significantly more involved in coordinating and supporting their child's lives after high school.

Note: Seeking input from assessments multiple times a year is key to keeping track of changes, progress, and updated interests. Input is not a one and done type of deal!

2. Use Their Input to Create Customized & Specific Goals

The key ingredient in a student's transition plan, is the same exact one in the IEP: Individualization. 

We cannot tell you how many transition plans we've seen that contain the phrase:

"X student will go to a postsecondary education program and become a video game designer."

Now, no shade on the student's interests to become a video game designer. We know these students and their passion and even special interests for video games! 

Through the multiple methods of input from students and caregivers alike, the IEP team can use this information to create customized  - or individualized - and specific postsecondary goals in the transition plan.

Each year as the transition plan evolves, you'll see growth, changes in interests, progress, and more specificity as students explore their interests and gather more life experiences.

Over time, a student will decide what type of postsecondary education program they want to attend, what job training they want to seek out, what the steps are for the job they want, where they want to live, etc. A student may not necessarily have all of this information the first year of their IEP transition plan, but the team can expect it to get more complex and specific over time.

3. Link Transition Activities to Goals

The transition activities and programming section of the transition plan is one that tends to get overlooked after the star of the show: postsecondary goals is covered first.

But transition activities and programming are the ones behind the scenes making things happen! 

Transition activities and programming help students work towards their postsecondary goals while they are in high school. They help students get out to community-based instruction (CBI) sites, learn transportation, explore careers, explore postsecondary education programs, and learn a variety of skills: including vocational, daily living, life skills, social emotional, self-regulation, executive functioning. 

Don't sleep on transition activities, IEP teams! 

Oftentimes, transition activities are assigned to parents and caregivers to complete. However, there is very little support provided to them on how to accomplish these activities. Plus, a lot of postsecondary goals require some connection to the community, which tends to get dropped in the transition activities section.

4. Include Community Resources

This leads us to the community resources section. One of the major concerns and burdens that autistic young adults and their families experience is having to start over in their community after high school.

Isn't that one of the main goals of the IEP transition plan? To help our students have a successful transition to adulthood?

One of our favorite recommendations for IEP teams, specifically for school staff members, is to have a community resource toolbox. This is a list of organizations local to your community that most families and students go to in adulthood. Most of these organizations are ready to be connected to students and their families - and you can be the great connector!

Families and students who get the opportunity to connect with community organizations (like Vocational Rehabilitation, day programming, local Autism Society support groups around transition to adulthood) are more likely to have folks from these organizations be a part of their team. They are also more likely to have postsecondary goals more in alignment with the options available in their community. Along for the ride is the even greater benefit in that many students and their families report feeling more connected to their community and less isolated than their peers and their families.

5. Evolves Each Year

Like an IEP, a transition plan is a living, moving, and evolving document. 

You can expect to it to change and evolve along with the student's interests, goals, discovered and harnessed strengths, and connections to the community. 

Ideally, too, you may want to develop a transition or summary of performance portfolio together with your student. They can share this as input regarding to their IEP transition plan and bring along as a representation of their work in their journey after high school.

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