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Transition Planning during the School Years
General information for all families

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Transition Planning in the IEP

What is the Law?

IDEA 2004 mandates that transition planning occur by the time a child turns 16 years old to build a “bridge between the security and structure offered by the school and the opportunities and risks of adult life” as described by the Federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services. [1] The IDEA regulations include Transition Services, which are a coordinated set of activities, within an outcome oriented process, designed to facilitate the child's adjustment from school to adult living. Every student who is receiving a FAPE and special education programs qualifies for Transition Services. The school your child is attending is responsible for initiating transition planning, but parents may make an earlier request if they feel it necessary. Planning can begin as early as the elementary school years. In addition, the concept of least restrictive environment, one of the main principles of IDEA, has implications for schools' IEP transition planning of work place assignments.

When Does it Begin?

Although IDEA requires that transition planning begin by age 16, certain states have decided to begin this process earlier.

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What Transition Goals Does an IEP Include?

Once your child reaches the age for which transition planning begins (see above), the IEP process will involve looking forward and focusing on the skills your child needs to acquire as a functioning adult. New language in IDEA 2004 has a stronger focus on results-oriented processes with measurable goals. [2]The IEP must include:

  • Appropriate measurable post-secondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living skills
  • The transition services (including academic instruction, community based instruction, career education, vo-tech education, and community experience) needed to assist the child in reaching those goals;
  • Beginning not later than one year before the child reaches the age of majority under State law, a statement that the child has been informed of the child’s rights under Part B, if any, that will transfer to the child on reaching the age of majority under 300.520 [see 20 U.S.C. 1415(m)].[34 CFR 300.320(b) and (c)] [20 U.S.C. 1414 (d)(1)(A)(i)(VIII)]

See Also:

What Are We Planning for?

In the transition planning process, all aspects of the young adult's future life are considered. Some of these areas include:

Post-secondary Education
Living Arrangements
Community Participation
Community Mobility
Financial Independence
Recreation and Leisure
Friendships and Relationships

How Do We Plan for Transition?

Transition planning begins with a comprehensive transition assessment. Transition assessment involves determining the young adult's vision for his/her future as well as identifying the skills that he/she will need to reach their goals. It is useful to think about transition assessment as three major components:

  1. Assess the student: Identify the student’s needs, strengths, preferences, and interests. This can be done through both formal and informal assessments (e.g., standardized tests, interviews, surveys, interest inventories). Also identify the student's and his/her family's vision and dreams for postschool life. This can be done through person-centered planning (see below)
  2. Assess current and future environments: Identify and analyze the characteristics and demands of the student’s current and future living, working, and educational environments. This can be done through inventories of skills needed in potential environments and should also include observations of the student in each environment (e.g., sampling a job or visiting a grocery store to determine skills that are needed)
  3. Make the match: Compare the student’s current strengths, needs, preferences, and interests with the demands of the desired future environments. Determine if there is a match: a good match will lead to placement and then monitoring of progress; a possible but not definite match will lead to placement with accommodations, support, assistive technology, or instruction; a match that is not good, even with supports, will lead to further assessment.

Transition assessment is not a one-time assessment; it is a process that is engaged in continually throughout the transition years. As young adults get closer to the time of leaving school, their goals become more specific and their needs change. Transition assessment should be updated each year as part of the IEP process. Additionally, the IEP should include plans for ongoing assessment throughout the year (see below). For a comprehensive guide to transition assessment, see the Age Appropriate Transition Assessment Toolkit from NSTTAC.

Person-Centered Planning

One approach to person-centered planning is Making Action Plans (MAP). MAP is a planning process used by teams to help students plan for their futures. The MAP uses a person-centered approach where the plans for the future are "built upon the student's dreams, fears, interests and needs." It is a structured format which helps gather information for the student's transition plan, which is part of the IEP. It is believed that students who participate in creating their transition plans are more committed to the plan. A MAP should take place before the transition IEP is due.

Person-centered planning is designed to meet the unique needs of each individual. It is an opportunity for the individual, family members, caregivers and other team members to work together to develop plans that maximize each individual's potential, building skills that will lead to greater independence and enhance the individual's quality of life.

See Also:

Devereux CARES Person-Centered Futures Planning Meeting checklist.

Ongoing Skills Assessment

A transition plan should include opportunities for ongoing skill assessment which can then provide information that can be used for:

Diagnosis/verification and subsequent special education eligibility decisions
Educational programming/intervention planning (i.e., strengths and needs)
Present levels of performance/measurement of progress

Common areas of skill assessment typically include communication, social, play, academic and motor skills.

See Also:

Devereux's Adolescent Skills Assessment Worksheet

Who Should be Involved in Transition Planning?

Transition planning is a team process that requires the involvement from many people. Important participants in transition planning include the student, parents, and adult service agencies.


Young adults with disabilities are the most important members of the transition planning team for one reason - it's their lives we are planning for! The participation of the young adult with disabilities is essential for figuring out a vision for his/her future. The young adult is the best person to speak about preferences, interests, goals, and dreams. Involving young adults throughout the process increases their investment in the transition plan and may increase their chances of achieving their dreams.

See Students Get Involved! from NICHCY for more information on the importance of student involvement and resources to get students involved in their transition planning.


Family involvement has a long-lasting impact as adolescents become adults. Families set the bar for career and lifestyle expectations, help select goals, and play an important role in advocating for services and supports. Parents and families are part of the life of the young adult in the long-term and are an important bridge between school and adult life. While navigating through the transition process, parents can make choices jointly with their children and in partnership with community and educational resources. See Tips for Families for strategies and suggestions to help families navigate through the transition process.

See Tips for Parents Navigating Through Transition for tips, strategies, and suggestions to help each family create their own map through the process or adventure of transition.

At the IEP Meeting

IDEA 2004 requires that the student be invited to the IEP meeting if the purpose of the meeting is the consideration of postsecondary goals. This gives the student the opportunity to make known his or her preferences in the transition plan. The parents and school personnel and other agency representatives who will be participating in the transition planning process should also attend transition IEP meetings. Any agency who may be providing transition services should be invited to attend. Those could include a rehabilitation counselor, county social worker, employment agency staff, independent living center staff, a person knowledgeable about financial benefits (SSI) or Medical Assistance, and personal care or health care providers. Families may also invite an advocate to help interpret information from the meeting. The school district's Transition coordinator may also attend. [3]

What Steps Can Parents Take to Prepare for IEP Meeting?

As written in the Parent Education Network's "IEP Guide," parents should ensure the IEP addresses the following:

  • Do I know what my son or daughter wants to become?
  • Does my child see family members as role models regarding careers or employment?
  • Do I encourage my child's independence in daily living activities such as money management, transportation or employment?
  • Do I encourage the pursuit of his or her own interests?
  • Do I help my child explore occupations?
  • Does my child understand the protections of the law and participate in the IEP process?
  • After leaving school, what do I expect my child's living situation to be?
  • What kind of job would I like to see my child have?

You may also want to introduce yourself to your child's school district Transition coordinator

Parent Attachment to an IEP:

A Parent Attachment can be added to the Individual Education Plan. The attachment “sets forth your position, what you want, what you disagree with, and anything else that would be appropriate.” On top of paper it should state “attachment to IEP of Parental Concerns,” date of the IEP and your child’s name.

See Also:

What Transition Services and Supports Should be Provided?

The following components are considered to be best practice in transitioning students with disabilities from school to adult life:

Student and family involvement

The importance of involving students and their families cannot be emphasized enough. Families are the bridge to adult life and the supports that they need to assist their young adults during and after the transition process must be considered when developing a transition plan. Students are essential in determining a vision for adult life and must be invested throughout the transition process.

Interagency collaboration

As youth with disabilities will typically require supports after high school, interagency collaboration is key. Any agencies who will be involved in supporting the young adult in adult life should be involved in the transition process. The IEP team should consider the supports that a young adult will need in adult life  - from vocational rehabilitation providers, independent living support providers, other adult service agencies, employers, postsecondary education institutions, and so on. Representatives from these agencies should be invited to be part of the transition process, including IEP meetings, as early as possible. The goal is to create a seamless transition where school supports fade gradually as other services increase. Interagency collaboration can help to avoid delays in obtaining services after high school due to lack of planning.

Work experiences

To increase the likelihood that youth with disabilities will obtain employment after high school, work experiences are essential. Through work experiences, students can learn job skills as well as begin to identify their preferences, interest, and strengths in relation to employment. Work experiences in high school can include observing jobs through job shadowing, trying out jobs through job sampling, or engaging in more in-depth internships either on the school campus or in the community.

Preparation for postsecondary education

The transition process should include preparation for postsecondary education for individuals who plan to attend college after high school. This involves considering the courses that students will need to complete in order to meet college entrance requirements. This may also involve researching potential colleges and universities and assisting the individual and family in the application process. Skills that will be needed for success in college should be targeted as part of the transition plan.

Community-based instruction

Community based instruction is a process that provides frequent and highly structured learning opportunities outside of an individual's classroom, immediate work environment and home.  The general objectives of CBI are to teach skills specific to community settings (e.g., waiting in line at the grocery store, ordering from a menu, etc.), generalize acquired skills to new environments, establish or maintain good behavior in new settings, and increase an individual's interactions with typically developing individuals. 

See Also:

Completing Effective Community Based Instruction, Cathleen Albertson and Todd Harris

Inclusion with peers

Although the transition process should involve considerable time spent in community settings, inclusion with same-age peers should still be incorporated into the student's educational plan. Opportunities to interact with same-age peers are important for building and sustaining friendships that will last into adulthood. For students up to age 18, opportunities to be included with same-age peers can be found in the high school, for example during academic periods, lunch, and homeroom. For students who are between the ages of 18 and 21 and who are still receiving special education services, it may be necessary to look outside the high school to find opportunities to interact with same-age peers. Recent initiatives to offer transition programs on college campuses or in other community settings provide these opportunities for inclusion.

See Also:

Best Practices in Transition: Critical Components Related to Educating Adolescents With Autism, Brandee El-Attar, M.S., Kate Dickey, M.S. Devereux CARES Consultants

Employment for Individuals with Autism, Dr. Paul Wehman

Community Inclusion Manual provided by the ASERT collaboratives.

Long-Term Planning for the Post 21 Years

While attending school, your child is covered under the IDEA laws that entitles him/her to a Free Appropriate Public Education. The adult service system provides benefits on a needed or eligible basis.  If you are seeking services with the adult I/DD system you may find the following definitions useful as you navigate the system. In all likelihood you and your child's Supports Coordinator will prepare an Individual Support Plan, which may access a wide array of support services. These terms are explained in more detail below.

Support services

Web Resources

Transition Planning during the School Years
Delaware Department of Education Transition website
Delaware Transition Staff Directory

Autism Spectrum Disorders Services: Final Report on Environmental Scan by IMPAQ International is a great study that provides information about the most effective services for individuals with ASD. This is an environmental scan of the evidence regarding the efficacy, effectiveness, safety, and availability of autism psychosocial services and supports for children, transitioning youth, and adults with autism. Findings are detailed along with data on evidence-based interventions starting on page 29 with excellent tables describing each intervention. There is also information on the significant costs associated with caring for individuals with autism.

Report on State Services to Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) ASD Services Project provides information about promising services for transition-age youth and adults. This study examines ASD services and supports in relation to Medicaid--the main public funder of such services outside the education system for affected individuals and their families.

  • 4.8 Pennsylvania: Adult Community Autism Program (ACAP)
  • Pennsylvania Brief State Summary

Better Federal Coordination Could Lessen Challenges in the Transition from High School by the U.S. Government Accountability Office assesses the challenges that individuals with disabilities face in receiving the proper services (tutoring, vocational training, and assistive technology) in an effective manner and how it can be improved as they transition from high school into postsecondary education or the workforce.


  1. Whetstone, M.,Browning, P. (2002)Transition: A Frame of Reference. [online] Retrieved 12/30/09 from Auburn, AL: Alabama Federation Council for Exceptional Children
  2. Putting the Pieces Together: An IEP Guide for School Age Students. York, PA. Parent Education Network, 1998
  3. IEP and Transition Planning: National Center of Secondary Education and Transition. [online] Retrieved 5/4/08, from