Preparing for life after high school
m.Ed, Learning disabilities association of Utah
Written for the 2018 Utah State Dyslexia Handbook
Planning for postsecondary life should begin as soon as a child enters school. As with any journey in life, knowing where you are headed will help you choose the appropriate road to get there! Since there is usually more than one way to get to a destination, knowing a student’s strengths, talents and needs will help everyone set goals and make decisions regarding classes and programs that will best help the student. Transition planning for a student with an IEP by law begins when the child is 14. The IEP team should design this plan based upon a student’s needs, strengths, preferences, and interests. The plan should include instruction, related services, community experiences, development of employment skills and other post school adult living objectives, and if appropriate daily living skills. According to the Utah State Board of Education Special Rules (2016), the purpose of transition planning services is to “ensure that all students with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” (p.135)
While the formal transition plan begins at 14, transition planning should begin earlier. To prepare for postsecondary college, even before high school, your child should register for challenging classes in English, mathematics, history, science, and foreign language. For many children with dyslexia, a foreign language can be difficult to learn and read. If your child/student has a difficult time with this, most colleges accept American Sign Language as a foreign language requirement for admission and this may be a more successful alternative for a child with dyslexia. They should also learn about their dyslexia and discover and practice using assistive technology they will need in high school and post-secondary school. There are many great checklists that outline steps and tasks to be completed from grades 9-12 in the transition process.
If the student is at least 14, and has an IEP or receives services under Section 504, the student can also receive transition services through the Utah State Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. These services are customized to the needs of the student but could include, pre-employment services, job exploration counseling, work-based experiences, instruction in self-advocacy, and counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or postsecondary educational programs at institutions of higher education. When transition planning, the school guidance counselors should always be involved in helping identify classes needed to reach graduation, career goals, and also help in getting information about colleges, scholarships and vocational programs.
An important part of preparing for college and careers, is the development of self-advocacy skills. This would include helping your child/student understand his/her dyslexia, strengths and weaknesses, how he/she best learns and communicates, and what types of assistive technology he/she will need. Developing self-advocacy skills can begin in elementary school with the support of educators and parents. One way of doing this is by helping them discover their strengths and talents, the tasks they struggle with and what types of activities/AT help them in the classroom. Talking about this is the first step in helping them learn to explain these things to their teachers and friends. By the time a child is in high school, he/she should take a more active role in communicating with teachers about his/her needs and accommodations. It is a good idea to practice this skill with family, friends, and in school where there is support because in a future college or work setting, the student will have to explain their needs to instructors, managers, etc. on their own. An understanding of strengths and how they best learn will aid them in selecting classes that will compliment these strengths while challenging them.
Colleges require documentation of a disability in order to provide support services. This documentation must usually be done within two years of enrolling in college. Having an IEP or Section 504 plan in high school is not enough documentation to obtain services from most colleges. In the article, Transition of Students with Disabilities to Postsecondary Education: A Guide for High School Educators (2011) it states, “It is not uncommon for documentation standards to vary from institution to institution; thus, students with disabilities should research documentation standards at those institutions that interest them. A student must provide documentation upon request that he or she has a disability that is an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity and that supports the need for an academic adjustment. The documentation should identify how a student’s ability to function is limited as a result of her or his disability.” The testing and diagnosis must be done by a licensed psychologist. The report should also include the recommended accommodations the student will need in the college setting. It is important to start this process before high school graduation so that he/she will be able to utilize the services they need from the start.
Parents and students should also understand that some of the accommodations received in a k-12 setting are not always allowed in a postsecondary setting. The student should contact the Office of Disability and Support Services at the colleges and universities they are considering to find out the specific documentation they need and the services that are offered, as each institution can have their own requirements.