Preparation for Adulthood


We all go through many transitions in life. From our very first day of school, to leaving home to live on our own for the first time, making transitions is an ongoing part of all of our lives. You are likely facing one of your most important transitions as you near the end of your high school career and prepare to move on to bigger things! It is no different for students with significant disabilities. One of the main concerns of the public schools is to prepare students with disabilities for life after high school. There are several things schools can do to promote their students’ successful transition. As a peer buddy, you may very well be involved in some of these things.

Choosing transition goals for the Individualized Education Program (IEP): In addition to teaching academic skills, schools should provide educational programs that teach such functional skills as daily living skills, and socialization skills. As students with significant disabilities get older, they need to be a part of choosing their own goals and objectives. These objectives should relate to the jobs they want upon graduation, and where they want to live. These objectives should be a part of the student’s IEP. With the permission and guidance of your teacher, you can help your buddy work on developing these goals!

Providing access to integrated settings: Students with disabilities generally benefit greatly when working and/or learning with their peers without disabilities. Therefore, as students with disabilities prepare for life after high school, it is important for them to be involved in general education classrooms as often as possible, and participate in activities in community settings. There has been quite a bit of research that shows students with disabilities are more likely to acquire new skills, and retain those skills, if those skills are learned in an integrated setting—especially in settings where those skills are most likely to be needed. This is where you come in! Your buddy will feel more comfortable with, and get more out of the general education setting with your help.

Providing the opportunity to participate in vocational education programs: Vocational education programs are wonderful ways to provide job training for a variety of occupations. These programs, including direct job training in the community, can help prepare students for employment after high school. It also one way that students both with and without disabilities can obtain skills that allow them opportunities for meaningful employment.

Providing access to local vocational rehabilitation services: A vocational rehabilitation counselor can assess whether the student will be eligible to receive services such as counseling, rehabilitation technology, job placement and retention, vocational or other training and/or supported employment. Vocational rehabilitation services can be provided while students are still in school, as well as after they leave school. In addition to helping people with disabilities find and keep jobs, rehabilitation counselors assist individuals in obtaining the supports they need to make those jobs work for them. For example, if a student is eligible, the vocational rehabilitation counselor can help the student to obtain assistive technology after leaving school that would help him or her to work.

Providing training at employment sites: There is no better way to develop actual job skills and learn appropriate social and work behaviors than being in an actual work setting and interacting with the co-workers. Arranging for real-life work experience while a student is still in school is an excellent method of training. These experiences can help students decide what they might like to do once they graduate. And of course – just as for you – the best kinds of job training experiences are the ones in which the student is paid to do the work! We all take pride in our first paycheck!

Providing paid work experience: Research has consistently shown that if students with disabilities are employed in competitively paying jobs (that is, jobs that pay the same amount they would pay a person without disabilities), while they are still in school, those students are more likely to remain employed after graduating. Supervised full or part-time jobs after school, or in the summer, can help a student with disabilities prepare for employment after school.

Incorporating job seeking skills in the curriculum: The abilities to seek and obtain employment are obviously important skills to have if you want to have a job. Students need to be taught these skills while they are still in high school. Schools should offer instruction and practice in the skills that are necessary in order to obtain a job. If you are interested in getting a summer job, learning these skills is something you and your buddy could work on together!

Participating in Extracurricular Activities: Participating in extracurricular activities fosters leadership in students, allows them to make connections to the community, and in some cases allows them to practice academic skills and explore areas of interest that may be career related (e.g. 4H, yearbook, drama club, FFA). By joining an extracurricular group with your peer buddy, the two of you can do something you both enjoy together, get to know each other better, and give your buddy an opportunity to work on his or her social skills all at once. In addition, for students with and without disabilities, the participation in extracurricular activities is one of the best predictors of college attendance.

Preparing for Higher Education Just like you, a student with a disability may decide that he or she wants to go to college. If this is the case, the transition plan will help the student reach this goal. This might include working with the student to make an initial plan based on what that student would like to study and his or her strengths, as well as the community resources to support the student in achieving that goal. Just like in employment, providing students experience in the areas they would like to study, or even in a college setting itself, would be helpful to help them to know if it something they would like for their futures!

So far we have focused mainly on transitioning to employment and/or higher education. But the transition from high school to the “real world” involves other stuff too. Where one is going to live is one important area that is sometimes easy to overlook. Just as you will make decisions on where you will live and whom you will live with after high school, your peers with disabilities face the same questions. Depending on individual strengths and needs, a person may rent his or her own apartment with or without roommates, live in apartment with other people with disabilities and varying levels of support, or decide that he or should would like to continue living at home. Just as for you, there are many options! As you continue through this unit, we will discuss residential options for people with disabilities in more detail.

So in a nutshell, transition is a lot of things. It’s change. It’s movement. It’s about facing new things. It’s turning over a new leaf. Students with significant disabilities need to think about all of the same things that you do as you plan for your transition from high school to that next step. The difference is that some students with disabilities may need more supports than you do and they may need to work with community service providers (such as vocational rehabilitation, or supported employment agencies) to assist them in reaching their goals. Whatever the means to make as smooth a transition as possible (for both you and your peers with disabilities), moving from high school onto bigger things is a big and exciting step—for everyone!

Think about developing a transition plan for a student with a significant disability. What skills might be really important? How could you find out what the student most wants to do in the future? How could you help the student develop a plan? How could you support the student in preparing for life after school and in achieving his or her goals? Remember to consider the student’s particular strengths and needs. (This activity can be based on a fictional person if you have not yet been paired with a buddy).