What is transition planning?

A motivating factor for schools and community providers to provide evidence-based transition practices for all

students, including students with autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities, stems from growing evidence that more needs to be done to ensure that young adults are prepared to pursue meaningful work in the 21st century workplace. In addition to basic academic skills, employers need workers with strong applied work skills such as teamwork, critical thinking and communication. They want young people who are able to work comfortably with co-workers and customers, to solve problems creatively, and to write and speak well. Employers also need workers who are punctual, dependable, and industrious.

For young adults with disabilities who face challenges to obtain and keep jobs (National Organization on Disability/Harris Study, 2010), the stakes are high to develop academic and work skills through a coordinated set of transition activities. In the disability field, more efforts are being made to customize work opportunities that meet the needs of employers and match the skills of potential employees. There are also a number of initiatives that are supporting young adults with disabilities to develop a work plan for entrepreneurial opportunities. A strong philosophy of “real jobs for real pay” adopted nationally by state agencies and advocates encourages transition teams to focus on preparing young adults for competitive employment.

Laws and Policies

The transition planning process for individuals with disabilities must begin early to help them develop the skills they need to successfully meet employment goals. With comprehensive, effective and ongoing transition planning, students are prepared to achieve post-high school success. Transition planning is supported by a number of laws and policies that outline what the transition from school to work process should look like in order to maximize that success. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (2004) outlines guidance to transition teams on what is necessary to provide students with the experience and the skills they will need to meet their employment goals.

The recently reauthorized Higher Education Opportunities Act of 2008 imposes requirements that colleges and universities develop effective transition programs and ensure that students with intellectual disabilities obtain appropriate transition services. With this opportunity to pursue postsecondary education, individuals with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities can further develop the applied work skills and knowledge that employers say they need from 21st century workers.

Effective Trends and Practices

Based on these laws, innovative transition staff are partnering with community partners from adult service agencies, employment providers, and colleges to provide students with:

  • Transition services that are tailored to meet the individual needs of students preparing for postsecondary goals
  • Ongoing transition assessments that help them determine what their preferences, strengths and challenges are, as well as to measure the skills they need to pursue employment goals
  • Guidance to develop individualized postsecondary education, employment and independent living goals for life after high school
  • Comprehensive and interagency transition services that will ensure they meet employment goals
  • A course of study that is directly related to their postsecondary aspirations
  • Job and college awareness opportunities including informational interviews, job shadowing, college tours
  • Training on disability disclosure and workplace accommodations
  • Work experience in community-based settings including service learning, internships and competitive employment
  • A work-based learning plan between the student, employer and job specialist that requires discussion about agreed upon work goals and ongoing evaluation
  • Job hunting skills (i.e., resume writing, cover letter writing, interviewing skills) in collaboration with local one-stop career centers
  • Connections to adult agencies well before leaving high school (i.e., vocational rehabilitation, developmental disabilities agencies, independent living)
  • Training and opportunities to practice self-advocacy and self-determination skills in work and college settings
  • Postsecondary education experiences while still in high school via dual enrollment opportunities.

Date posted: March 29, 2011. Content created by The Institute for Community Inclusion at University of Massachusetts Boston. Last updated: March 21, 2018.

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