Education is important for all children, but even more so for children with disabilities, whose social and economic opportunities may be limited.
The special education system has given children with disabilities much greater access to public education, established an infrastructure for educating them, helped with the earlier identification of disabilities, and promoted greater inclusion of these children alongside their nondisabled peers.
Once a child is identified as eligible for special education services, a team that includes the child's parents and representatives of the public education system is charged with developing an individualized education program (IEP). The IEP outlines academic goals and incorporates all the services and supports necessary to meet the child's unique needs.
The services and supports can include transportation, speech-language pathology and audiology, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy and many other individual services according to the child's unique needs (The Future of Children: Children with Disabilities, Spring 2012).
Most parents of children with disabilities, educators and physicians are familiar with the IEP, but not all are aware that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that an individualized transition plan (ITP) must also become part of the IEP once the child reaches his or her sixteenth birthday. (In some states, the age is even lower.)
The ITP prepares disabled youth for the transition to adulthood. One of the major differences between an IEP and an ITP is that the student becomes part of the ITP planning team. Parents and multidisciplinary representatives of the public school system continue to be a part of the team.
The types of goals differ once the ITP is included in the IEP. Federal law requires that the IEP be revised yearly to include goals for academic and school-related progress for the coming year. The ITP expands the time frame and range of goals. The team must consider skills and behaviors that will be required by the student for adulthood, as well as the student's interests. As the goals being set will assist the student's transition into adulthood, they often need to be long-range goals that won't be completed in a given year.
One critical goal is determining whether the student will graduate with his or her classmates. Other transitional goals could include training opportunities that would strengthen skills needed for living in the community (general housekeeping, hygiene, public transportation skills and skills that would promote inclusion in recreational activities). Students with chronic illness need to learn medical self-management.
"Transition to adult life presents challenges and opportunities for practitioners guiding families of children with disabilities." Thoughtful planning, beginning at a young age and supported in the home, can increase the chances that these young folks will be prepared to take on adult roles and responsibilities (AAP News, Nathan J. Blum, MD, FAAP & Stephen H. Contompasis, MD, FAAP).