One in five families in the United States care for children with special needs. The United Disability Services Foundation identifies several barriers young adults with disabilities encounter when reaching adulthood. These include such difficulties as finding employment, seeking accommodations, and engaging in self-advocacy. A transition plan can support a successful shift to adulthood.
In 2021 and 2022, 15 percent of public school students with disabilities received special education and related services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that schools begin helping students with Independent Education Plans (IEPs) develop transition plans when they reach age 16.
In addition to educators and school administrators, parents can offer essential support to their young adult in making a transition plan. Work with your child to help them think through each of the following:
- planning their future career,
- considering their preferred living situation in adulthood,
- understanding their rights, and
- developing their ability to advocate for themselves.
From Adolescence to Adulthood: College and Career Readiness
When young people with disabilities become adults, they gain the right to make decisions about their education and future. Deciding what level of education they want to pursue and what work interests them is key to a successful transition plan.
Unless the parents obtain guardianship of their adult child, the child becomes the primary decision-maker about their education. When a student with an IEP becomes an adult, the school must get the student’s consent before modifying the IEP.
Beyond making decisions about their high school education, students with disabilities may consider future educational opportunities. As part of helping your adolescent shape a transition plan, encourage them to reflect on whether they would like to pursue post-secondary education. They may have a particular interest in an alternative path, such as trade school.
Fortunately, the employment rate for Americans with disabilities is rising, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2022, 21 percent of people with a disability were part of the workforce, an increase from 19 percent in 2021. Among 25- to 34-year-olds with a disability, 20 percent have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education.
What Housing Options Are Available?
Review the housing options that could best suit your child’s specific needs as they reach adulthood. Encourage them to think about the kind of living arrangement that would allow them to thrive. For example, they may prefer a roommate, a home close to work, or easy access to their health care provider.
While some young adults with disabilities can live on their own, others may benefit from additional support. According to the 2020 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, more than a third of Americans with disabilities aged 15 or older said they had a disability that affected their ability to do “errands alone, such as visiting a doctor's office or shopping.”
Keep in mind that if your child lives in someone else’s home and receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI), they may need to pay rent to avoid seeing a reduction in their benefits.
For those who plan to attend college and live on campus, consider the necessary accommodations. For instance, if your child has an emotional support animal (ESA), they may have a right to bring their animal.
Help Your Child Develop Self-Advocacy Skills
While outlining goals and plans for the future is an essential component of transition planning, an effective transition plan also encompasses preparing your child to advocate for themselves and ask for necessary accommodations.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and gives individuals a right to obtain reasonable accommodations in the workplace.
- Under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, federally funded colleges and universities cannot deny admission or otherwise discriminate against students with disabilities and must provide reasonable educational accommodations.
- The Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination against those with disabilities. Most types of housing cannot deny your child access to housing because of their disability.
You can help your child practice talking about their disability and requesting accommodations.
As your child matures, they can also access community resources and organizations to interact with peers and obtain support. Consider researching local organizations with your child that provide transition assistance.
Easterseals is one organization that provides community-based services to individuals with disabilities. Each year, it assists more than 1.5 million people as they transition to the workforce, secondary education, and living on their own.
Additional Resources on Transition Services
As you and your child reflect on your child’s goals going forward, consult with a local special needs planning attorney. The following resources can also help you structure a strong transition plan:
- What to Do When Your Child Turns 18, Part I
- High School Transition Toolkit from Informing Families
- The Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights (PACER) Center, which offers in-person and online workshops, an assistive technology lending library, guides on ABLE accounts, and more.