Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Need for an Effective Transition Experience

Families with a child who has a cognitive disability struggle with the need to protect their child from the world and at the same time prepare them to be as independent as they are able. The lack of sophisticated problem solving and decision making skills makes a person more vulnerable and yet like anyone else a person with a disability thrives when encouraged and supported to extend themselves and reach their highest level of independence. The fact that the level of independence varies greatly across people makes decisions regarding how much independence a particular person can handle even more challenging. Information such as IQ scores are at best minimally predictive of the level of independence that can be achieved.

Typically developing young adults vary greatly in the ways in which each they embrace adulthood. Some marry early and set off on their own career and life paths while others post pone marriage and even commitments of any type all through their 20’s; falling back into the nest when life’s inevitable challenges become too much for them to handle. Their struggle for independence proceeds in fits and starts. Bearing that in mind, how does a apparent with a cognitively disabled young adult allow them to set off into this incredibly complex world knowing that they lack the judgment to make adult decisions and possibly the insight to protect themselves from potential predators. At the same time people with cognitive disabilities need more opportunities to develop a sense of competence and build self-esteem. This is a conundrum that enormously complicates the process of letting go.

While there are many agencies designed to support people with disabilities, their effectiveness always depends on the quality and dedication of the staff they can recruit to work for them and on government funding that capriciously changes in the hands of each new political regime. Often there is a distinct quality of innocence and acceptance that many people with cognitive disabilities possess. Their innocence and openness contributes to making each person unique but at the same time it makes them vulnerable to many of the challenges of modern society.

Participating in an effective transition experience from high school to adult life should allow the student and his family the opportunity to determine what level of independence he can safely manage and how much support he is likely to need to continue to grow throughout his adult life. The transition experience should be a time of exploration and testing of limits. This may entail dealing with some failure along with gaining new skills and meeting with successes. Too often school personnel are unable or unwilling to design a truly unique transition plan that allows the student to enter into this level of self-exploration. Even when opportunities for exploration are set up if the student fails to meet with failure the school may wind up pointing to that expereince as a reason not to set up a new and different transition plan.

Unfortunately, families also need help to allow their young adult to step out and explore AND even possibly FAIL knowing that the support is in place and a next step is outlined and will be tried.