Sunday, November 23, 2008

High School Graduation - then what?

"The availability of programs after high school was like going from a cruise ship to a dinghy" - Steve Riggio, parent and CEO of Barns & Noble.

No one knows better than the parent of a student in special education the inadequacies of the educational system. Parents often find the need to advocate for their child's support services, speech, OT, etc. - help to educate their child's teacher - and seek out social opportunities that provide enough support and opportunity for their child. Sometimes parents feel the school system is too unresponsive and they seek to have their child "graduate" so they can access adult programming. Unfortunately this is MOST OFTEN a mistake.

As resistant and/or unresponsive the educational system can be the fact of the matter is they are mandated by law to provide a "free and appropriate" education - key word there appropriate NOT optimal, hence the battles. BUT - there are no mandated services for adult life. Once a student graduates from high school either by completing the academic requirements for graduation or by aging out at 21 - the adult with special needs must meet eligibility requirements in order to receive a service. Parents may be thinking well my child has been excluded from many opportunities during his/her years in school - and while that may be true -
schools are mandated to design programming that educates the child in the least restrictive environment. Adult programs are designed to provide a particular service for the people who fall within their guidelines.

Parents may be told that once the teen graduates Voc. Rehab. (VESID) will take over. NOT TRUE! An adult must meet the eligibility criteria for Voc services and only the Voc. Rehab. counselor can make that determination. Just like meeting the requirements for social security or college admission ALL adult services have eligibility requirements that must be met. Each agency/service determines whether or not the adult meets their requirements and can receive services from them.

I often meet with parents who say that their teen would like to enter a particular profession, attend a particular college, do a particular job. NONE of those things are within the parents control! The young adult can access these things ONLY if they meet the requirements for admission.

Let's bust a few myths...

1. There are no set aside jobs for people with special needs - ALL job applicants MUST be able to perform the essential functions of the job
as defined by the employer.
(The ADA mandates this change - more on that in a future blog.)

2. You can not attend college with an IEP diploma. Although there are special/support services available at all colleges these services are for students who met the admissions requirements. (YES, there are college-type programs sometimes on college campuses that accept students with IEP's but these students do NOT traditionally attend regular classes and are not working towards a degree.)

3. Being a special education student in high school does NOT qualify for ANY additional help once you leave high school. You must prove/document your disability in order to obtain any legally required supports.

So what can a parent do...
1. Encourage your child to stay in the school system as long as possible. Even if delaying that final test is necessary so the student
can continue to receive other training/supports.

2. Teach your teen about their special needs so they can explain them to others. Adults must advocate for themselves to receive special supports.

3. Do your homework...learn about all possible options within your school system. I am often amazed at the array of services SOME students receive. HOW? Network, talk with other parents - participate in your PTSA and seek out the professionals who work with your child.

4. AND, educate yourself as to what is available for your child once they leave the school setting. What will your child qualify for based on his documented disability not on what you may believe he/she can do.

I'd love to hear your experiences with transition and what you have found worked so I can share it with others.