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Through the Looking Glass (Part 1)

by Mary Mazzoni on May 29, 2011

Like Alice stepping through the looking glass, kids enter a surprising new set of realities when they step into life beyond IEPs.

Special education law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA) applies to the world of public education.

When our kids graduate, or when they venture out into other arenas of life (such as employment) while still in high school, different rules of engagement apply.

These include ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  The provisions of these laws are very different than the IDEA protections to which we’ve grown accustomed.

Alice was caught unawares.  Let’s avoid that kind of shock and dismay. In the next three posts, we’ll peek at some  key realities of life beyond IEPs.

These “realities” are important factors that will have a major impact on your child’s life after high school. Taking a look at them now will give you a sense of what lies ahead and help guide your child’s plans. Future posts will provide all sorts of resources in each of these areas.  We don’t have to deal with everything at once.  We’re just taking a look at the “big picture” today.

Some of what you’ll see may be startling.  You’re likely to  bump into some new vocabulary.  Words you thought you understood will take on new meaning.  But, it’s OK.  We’re taking this one step at a time.  Ready?

Eligibility vs. Entitlement

A student with an IEP is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  The IEP team decides the particular instruction, accommodations, modifications, and services that will be provided to help the child meet individualized learning goals.  Services are tailored to a student’s individual needs and are not dictated solely by a disability diagnosis.

Stepping beyond public education, a person with a disability must meet eligibility criteria to access services and accommodations.  Various agencies provide specific services to persons with particular disabilities.  One must identify relevant agencies, complete the application process and provide documentation of disability diagnosis and “functional limitations” to find out if one is eligible for particular services.

(Yes.  I know. It’s exhausting just thinking about this. But – in future posts, we’ll have tips about this process.  Meanwhile, ask your child’s teacher for contact information for local agencies that are relevant for your child.)

Disability Disclosure

Will your child need accommodations to succeed in the work place or in a postsecondary education program?

The concept of “universal design” is making physical environments and technology more accessible to people with all sorts of abilities and disabilities.  But anyone who needs individualized accommodations to succeed at work or postsecondary education will need to request those accommodations.  This involves disclosing and documenting disability.


Disclosure and documentation are also required to access services or funding through agencies.  Documentation requirements vary widely.  It’s up to the individual to find out what documentation is required.

Disability disclosure is a very personal choice.  Some people choose to forgo accommodations or services because they don’t want to disclose their disability. Part of getting ready for life after IEPs is learning how to make informed personal choices about disability disclosure.

This prompts many questions:

  • Do our kids understand their disabilities?
  • Can they name their diagnoses and explain their “functional limitations” and “reasonable accommodation” needs (as well as their strengths)?
  • Can they provide required documentation?
  • Can they make informed choices about why, when, how and to whom they will disclose their disability?
  • Do we as parents have the information we need to support our children as they consider disclosure choices?

(Yes – this is a lot to think about!)  Don’t panic! A great free resource is 411 on Disability Disclosure And yes, we’ll address disclosure in future posts.

Waiting Lists and Service Limitations

Many agencies that provide funding or services for people with disabilities have waiting lists.  Even after completing the application process and being determined eligible, a person may wait a significant period of time (sometimes months or even years) to access services or funding.

There are also limitations to the types of services provided by particular agencies.  Often agencies provide specific services for only a limited period of time.

It’s important to know about waiting lists and service limitations years before high school graduation.  This knowledge can drive two important elements of transition planning:

  • Deciding when to apply to relevant agencies
  • Focusing on high priority skills while still in high school so that your child graduates able to achieve personal goals despite the reality of limited post-high school supports.

OK.  Enough for one day!

Step back on this side of the glass.  Breathe.

It takes guts to peek into future realities like that.  Good for you!

To get some perspective, I suggest you click here to check out the Young Voices posts.  You’ll hear from young people who have successfully navigated this terrain and are loving life after IEPs.

The future  holds unexpected joys for you and your child.

So, let’s take a break for now.  Enjoy today.  Take time to care for yourself.

Leave a comment if you’d like.   See you at Part 2 when you’re ready.

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