special education

Questions Every Parent Needs to Ask During Transition


Please Note: the resources listed here are based in United States regulations.  The questions themselves are universal.

For any parent, transitioning their son or daughter to adulthood can be a daunting task.  For parents of individuals diagnosed with developmental disabilities, this can seem like a mountain to climb.  For many children diagnosed with developmental disabilities, when they turn 21, it can be seen as the "cliff," as school services end, so supports drop off.

What are the four transition ages that ALL parents should be aware of?  What are the questions to ask as you guide your child through transition?  This blog will outline these ages and questions to ask.

1) 14-16 YearS

At this stage, graduation or exit from school may seem like a long way away, but it will come faster than you think.  Here are some things to consider as you navigate these years:

Discuss post 21 plans with their school team, and think of realistic transition goals focused on the following areas:

  1. Self-help/Daily Living Skills

  2. Independent Living Skills

  3. Employment

  4. Self-Advocacy/Communication

Will they be graduating at 18?  At 21?  Will they be going to college, or will they need vocational training? If your child has an IEP, what should the IEP be focused on to meet those goals during the next two years?

2) 16-18 Years

For most parents, this is the timeframe when, if your child is planning on going to college, you will start exploring schools, SATs, and admissions processes.  For these children, parents should be focused on teaching them the skills they need to have when they are on their own, especially if they are planning on leaving the nest.  Skills to focus on would be employment, budgeting, problem solving, household repair, and any daily living skills they currently are not performing on their own.

For parents of children with developmental disabilities, these are also important years, because it is the time to decide if your child will exit at 18 or 21.  College, vocational, and post-18 services should also be considered. 

Here are the questions you can ask at this stage:

Continue discussion of post-21 plans. 

Explore job opportunities/skill instruction that will help them gain employment experience

Continue to assess realistic transition goals focused on the following areas:

  1. Self-help/Daily Living Skills

  2. Independent Living Skills

  3. Employment

  4. Self-Advocacy/Communication

Finalize exit year (18 or 21):

  1. If exiting at 18, contact office of vocational rehabilitation to start intake process if looking for employment

  2. If exiting at 21, contact local developmental disability office to start intake process, and learn about requirements for waivers (if not already enrolled)

  3. If attending local university or community college, contact the college’s disability office to discuss potential accommodation needs of the student.

3) 18-21 Years

For many parents, this is the time when their son or daughter attends college or a university.  This is the time, where you've taught them all you can, and now it is their turn to shine, problem solve, and learn to make their way in the world.  This can be challenging as a parent, because you want to continue to support them when they need you, but at the same time, they need to be able to have the freedom to make mistakes to learn from them.

For parents with children with developmental disabilities, this is the time to really be dedicating focus and attention to post-21 goals.  These are the things to consider:

Assess realistic transition goals focused on the following areas:

  1. Self-help/Daily Living Skills

  2. Independent Living Skills

  3. Employment

  4. Self-Advocacy/Communication

Explore workplace opportunities (either through school district or office of vocational rehabilitation) to gain employment skills.

What are the current barriers that may prevent your child to gain employment?  How can the team work to eliminate those barriers?

If exiting at 21, make sure at age 19-20 the office of vocational rehabilitation has application on file, and you have contacted the state or county developmental disability office to check on eligibility for waiver support.

4) Post-21

You have made it!  For many parents this is the time to watch your son or daughter collect that diploma, and find their place in the world of careers and employment, or maybe they will continue their education in graduate school.

For parents with children with developmental disabilities, this can be extremely frightening as school supports are no longer available.  As scary as it can be, however; this can also be a time to celebrate, to look back on how far your child has come, overcoming many challenges.  Your child WILL continue to learn and develop even after 21.

Here are the things to consider at this timeframe:

Exit school, complete person centered planning process to develop individual support plan.

If eligible for services, choose service provider.

Continue to assess and build on transition goals focused on the following areas with supports from service providers.

Hopefully this blog will help parents to plan for transition!  Leave a comment below to let us know what you found useful!


Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services http://www.medicaid.gov/HCBS

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services:  https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/rsa/index.html