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IDEA transition provisions – an overview

by Mary Mazzoni on December 26, 2011

IDEA is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – America’s special education law.

IDEA has specific provisions about how IEP teams plan for a student’s transition to life after IEPs.

This is your child’s future we’re talking about.

You and your child are essential members of the IEP team. You need to understand what IDEA has to say about transition.

We’ll take a very broad look at IDEA transition provisions today. In future posts, we’ll focus more specifically on key points.

IDEA’s purpose

IDEA 2004 states that the first of its several purposes is:

“to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services that are designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” 

In other words, at every age, special education should be designed to prepare kids for their future. However, specific transition provisions go into effect as kids get older.

When does transition begin?

IDEA says that transition begins with the IEP that will be in effect on the 16th birthday. (Or earlier if the IEP team chooses). Some states require that transition begin at age 14. Once begun, transition planning continues annually through the IEP process.

What’s different about IEPs for students of transition age?

IDEA requires that IEPs for students of transition age include:

appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment and where appropriate independent living skills, and the transition services, (including courses of study), needed to assist the child in reaching these goals.”

OK. Let’s break that down a bit.

Postsecondary goals state what your child plans to do after high school graduation (in the areas of further education or training, employment and independent living).

The IEP team needs to review and update these goals every year. They may change as your child gains experience and researches options. Your child’s interests and skills should be considered in setting postsecondary goals. And the whole IEP should focus on preparing your child to meet these goals.

Age appropriate transition assessment is not defined specifically in the law. The accepted definition was developed by the Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT) of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). You can find it here.

Transition assessment is a huge topic that will be addressed in future posts. A key concept is that it’s an ongoing process of collecting information that helps your child and the IEP team to set goals and make plans for the future. Transition assessments are to be aligned with your child’s needs. And your child should be actively involved in the process of using transition assessment information to plan for his or her future.

Courses of study - once students are of transition age, the courses they take are to be listed by name in the IEP.

Transition services

IDEA defines transition services as:

” a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that:

  1. is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation;
  2. is based on the child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences and interests, and
  3. includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and when appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.”

Let’s unpack that.

Coordinated set of activities - this is an important concept. Efforts need to be coordinated over time and among IEP team members.

Results-oriented - the focus of everyone’s efforts is to support the student in gaining the skills and taking the steps needed to achieve his/her post-high school goals.

Academic and functional skills need to be considered in relation to the student’s postsecondary goals. Functional skills include communication, motor skills, behavior, social skills, organization, self-care/independent living skills, self determination skills and employment skills.

Based on child’s needs – taking into account the student’s strengths, preferences and interests.

Includes the types of services listed in #3 as may be needed by an individual student.

Summary of Performance

When a student ceases to be eligible for IDEA because of reaching the age of 21 or accepting a high school diploma, IDEA states that the:

“local education agency shall provide the child with a summary of of the child’s academic achievement and functional performance which shall include recommendations on how to assist the child in meeting the child’s postsecondary goals. “

Your child’s graduation date is an important decision to be reviewed by the IEP team each year. If your child plans to graduate before age 21, be sure s/he has the skills and supports needed for whatever is planned after high school.

Other related provisions

Student invited to IEP meetings

IDEA requires that students of transition age be invited to participate in their IEP meetings. Even when students choose not to attend, they must still have input into their transition plans.

Age of majority

In some states, students become responsible for making their own educational decisions once they reach the age of majority.  Other states allow parents to retain educational decision making rights until high school graduation.

In states where educational rights pass to students at the age of majority, IDEA requires that, at least one year prior to the age of majority, the IEP include a statement that the student has been informed of these rights under IDEA.

Want more information?

This has been a very broad overview. Find more details about IDEA transition provisions at these sites.

  • Wrightslaw
  • NICHCY (National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities)
  • NCSET  (National Center on Secondary Education and Transition)

Your turn

Are there particular IDEA transition provisions you’d like to learn more about? Have you found other resources helpful in understanding IDEA? Please leave a comment.

If you found this post helpful, please share it. Thanks!

Image by Matthew Wynn at Flickr



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