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Kelley Challen

Student Involvement in IEPs: Ten Tips to Help Middle School Students Get Started – Part 1

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Federal law requires that students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs) be invited to attend their transition IEP meetings. In Massachusetts, this means that students approaching the age of 14, often 8th graders, should be invited to attend their IEP meetings to start the process of transition planning if this has not already begun. For many, the idea of a middle school student attending an IEP meeting, an activity that can often be intimidating and upsetting for parents, can initially be overwhelming. And historically research has indicated that when students do attend team meetings, they have the lowest level of satisfaction about their IEP meeting of any team member and they feel the least comfortable sharing their thoughts and suggestions in the meeting.[i] However, research across the country has also shown that students can learn skills to actively participate in their IEP meetings, especially when they are directly taught terminology, roles, and how to participate, and when team members expect student participation.[ii] Student participation in IEPs is not only important because it is federally mandated, it is also essential because the IEP is supposed to be based on the student’s strengths, interests, preferences, and needs as well as the student’s post-high school goals—and because it’s the student’s life! For those reasons, I am choosing to focus this blog (and some future blogs) on tips for helping middle school students to become involved in their IEP processes.

  1. Explicitly learn about the IEP document and process—There are clear rules and vocabulary used to govern the IEP process. However, these are wholly unfamiliar and strange to anyone who has not participated in the process before (and even perplexing for those of us who have a lot of experience at team meetings). Therefore, one of the most critical ways to prepare a student to attend transition IEP meetings and to be a self-directed member of their IEP team is to equip them with knowledge of the vocabulary and rules that govern the process. One organization that has created useful materials for helping to teach students about the IEP process is imdetermined.org which has documents designed to assist students in understanding the IEP (https://imdetermined.org/resource/understanding-my-iep-differentiated/) and preparing for the IEP (https://imdetermined.org/resource/understanding-my-iep-differentiated/), but it may also be important to reference and simplify certain sections of the IEP Process Guide (https://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/iep/proguide.pdf). If students are not ready to review their entire IEP (which many students are not), it may be helpful just to think about the present levels of performance, strengths, or accommodations.
  2. Talk about strengths—While it’s critical that students be able to talk about their strengths and challenges, sometimes it’s easiest to start with strengths. People can have all kinds of strengths, such as character strengths, social strengths, language strengths, academic strengths, technical strengths, extracurricular strengths, and more. For kids who have a hard time with open-ended questions, there are checklists that can be found or completed online, such as character strengths inventories, transferable skills checklists, and strengths worksheets. There are also activities that can be useful for documenting strengths over time, such as this Strengths Chain activity (https://www.understood.org/articles/en/strengths-chain-for-kids), keeping a running list or journal of strengths and accomplishments, or building a deck of strength cards. All students need help learning to describe their strengths, especially the first time. Some students may have a hard time identifying the strengths they see in themselves, but may have an easy time sharing what other people say about them or compliment them on. Talking about strengths is not a one-time activity. Make sure that you are talking about and referring to the student’s strengths often while also highlighting how various members of the household or students in the class have different strengths and skills.
  3. Talk about challenges!—While transition planning is a strengths-based process, an IEP is based on a student needing specialized instruction and related services because the student has a disability and would struggle to make effective progress in school or the general education curriculum without special education. If we are going to ask students to be actively involved in a process of goal-setting based principally on their having a disability and related challenges, it is critical that the student has the opportunity to talk about what is hard for them and what they want to get better at… in their own words. At the same time, it is important to normalize the fact that all people have challenges, learn different information at different rates, and need help (and tools) to function successfully. Ultimately, being able to use a diagnostic label and understand the impact of a diagnosis on functioning is important, but what is more important is being able to describe what is hard on a daily basis and what makes those difficult activities easier. For some students, it is helpful to read a book or watch a television show or movie with characters who face similar struggles and to label similarities between the youth and the character. Some of the same checklists mentioned for documenting strengths can be helpful for identifying areas of challenge or undeveloped skills. It may also be helpful to start filling in a worksheet similar to this one-pager (https://imdetermined.org/resource/one-pager/) or this self-awareness worksheet (https://www.understood.org/articles/en/download-self-awareness-worksheet-for-kids). Just as with strengths, it is important to talk about and refer to specific challenges that each person in the household or class faces.
  4.  Complete interest and preference inventories—Learning to engage in self-assessments and talk about those self-assessments is an important part of transition planning and IEP participation. There are so many fun interest and personality quizzes online that can be taken in minutes. Some examples include these personality tests from National Geographic Kids (https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/games/personality-quizzes), this free personality type explorer (https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test), or even the O*Net Career Interest Profiler (https://www.mynextmove.org/explore/ip). Have the student take the test—and take these tests yourself—and talk about how your results are similar or different and how well the student thinks the results of the assessment capture them. Think about whether there are strengths or challenges to add to their running lists or worksheets based on their experience taking these inventories.
  5. Talk about the student’s goals for after high school—Students have the right to input as much as possible into their postsecondary vision statement, no matter how realistic or unrealistic their input is. The only way that they can be prepared to provide input at a team meeting is if they have spent some time thinking and talking about their post-high school goals and learning about their choices and options. Just recently, my colleague Becki Lauzon wrote a blog with important discussion points for talking about post-high school goals with students, which can be found here. A robust transition planning process should include helping a student to have detailed goals for their future education or training, employment, independent living, and community engagement; however, initial discussions might just include ruling in or out things like obtaining a high school diploma, continuing learning after high school, having a paid job, driving a car, and living with other people. In middle school, the goal of talking with a student about their postsecondary vision is just to help the student learn to comfortably engage in those discussions and to find out where future work needs to be done in order to help the student build a more complete picture of their adult postsecondary life.

Every student is different and is able to engage in the process in different ways and at different times, but I hope that there is at least one tip in these blogs that is useful for you. Next month, I will be writing a second blog with more tips for engaging middle school students in the IEP process.

If you are interested in having your child work with Kelley Challen or another NESCA transition specialist to plan and prepare to be part of their IEP meeting, please fill out an intake for our transition consultation and planning services or our student coaching services today!

[i] http://www2.ku.edu/~tccop/files/Martins_Perspective.pdf

[ii] http://www2.ku.edu/~tccop/files/Martins_Perspective.pdf

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

Why Work Matters for Teens

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

“The share of teens participating in the labor force peaked 40 years ago and has declined ever since.”[1] There are many reasons why employment rates among teens ages 16-19 have declined, such as increased schoolwork and graduations requirements, summer program and extracurricular opportunities, and work competition. Now, roughly only one-third of youth in this age range are part of the workforce. But research tells us that teens who work during high school, whether during the school year or summer months, are more likely to persevere in college (if they choose this academic route) and also more likely to be hired in adulthood. For teenagers with disabilities, a population of young people who face a high risk for unemployment in adulthood, work experience in high school is even more critical.

Some of the benefits of paid employment for all students include:

  1. A new sense of identity—as a worker
  2. Learning workplace norms and expectations
  3. Developing important executive functioning skills, like time and task management
  4. Building social skills by collaborating and negotiating with other workers and/or customers
  5. Improving self-awareness through receiving coworker and employer feedback
  6. Reading a paycheck and learning to manage earned money
  7. Starting to identify learning and career goals (“I never want to do this again, so I am going to need to get a degree or some training.”) and/or gaining experience in a field of interest

Even failed work experiences—and failed application processes—are extremely valuable tools for learning the above skills as well as building coping and problem-solving skills.

And since it is almost summer and teenagers are finishing, or have finished, their classes for the school year, this is a great time to make a plan for summer employment. Teens can look in traditional places such as grocery stores, retailers, and fast-food restaurants, or may want to pursue something non-traditional like doing yard work, dog walking/pet sitting, cleaning/detailing, or odd jobs for family friends and neighbors. Those 18 and over with driver’s licenses may enjoy the flexibility of working with a delivery service like Instacart or Uber Eats.

Because work—whether a summer, part-time, traditional or non-traditional job—is such a critical aspect of transition planning, my colleague here at NESCA, Transition Specialist Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, will be authoring a series of blogs focusing on career planning and counseling beginning this summer and continuing into the fall. Be on the lookout for her blogs. In the meantime, get out there and work!

Reference:

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/06/why-so-few-teenagers-have-jobs-anymore.html

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

Why Taking Competency Tests, like the MCAS, can be Critical for Transition and College Planning

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Most states require some form of competency testing for students, particularly students who will graduate with a state standard diploma. But in the past year, standardized competency testing has become more complicated, if not impossible, to carry out.

In Massachusetts, graduation requirements have been altered for several grades of students. Students graduating in 2021-2023 are being offered alternative options for meeting state competency determination in one or more of the required subject areas (e.g., science and technology/engineering, mathematics, English Language Arts). For more details about those alternatives, see MA Graduation Requirements and Related Guidance on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website.

The opportunity for students in the Class of 2022 to graduate without ever sitting for 10th grade MCAS is something that many students, parents, and teachers are excited about. While I understand, and even agree with, criticisms of standardized testing, there are also many reasons that I am disappointed for the students who are missing out on the opportunity to sit for this testing. These students, especially those with disabilities, are missing out on a vital transition planning activity.

Preparing for, and sitting for, (and coping with,) high stakes tests is an important part of life. Whether you pass or fail, being able to show up and perform your best in a high-pressure situation is a valuable life skill. Moreover, being able to demonstrate competency in a test situation is a reasonable and necessary college and career skill.

Additionally, standardized tests like MCAS provide objective feedback regarding the student’s level of achievement with high school material. Grades can be tremendously subjective, and are highly dependent on the teachers and types of classes that the student is exposed to during high school. In contrast, students participating in honors, college prep, and functional math classes all sit for the same standardized math tests. This is especially important when students in all three of those classes are interested in heading off to college after high school, and when we want to get a sense of their readiness for handling college coursework. Generally, students who do not earn passing scores (i.e., students who score in the “Needs Improvement” or “Partially Meeting Expectations” categories) on the MCAS, especially by 12th grade, will struggle with college placement exams, such as the Accuplacer, and may end up needing to take remedial coursework at the start of college. Students have a right to know how ready they are for the academic rigors of college as they are making their college plans, and standardized testing results can be helpful information (although they are by no means the whole picture).

With the new competency determination options, many students in Massachusetts view sitting for MCAS as something that is only worth doing if they are possible candidates for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship (a merit-based state scholarship program). However, I hope students will also consider the other positive reasons I have listed above when deciding whether to sit for the test. For college-bound students who do choose not to sit for MCAS, I strongly recommend sitting for other standardized exams during high school, such as SAT, ACT, Accuplacer, etc. These experiences are important opportunities to build confidence in high stakes situations, to assess college readiness skills, and to identify skill gaps that may need shoring up.

Certainly, there are many legitimate concerns about standardized test contents and validity, including significant equity issues. I also believe that competency tests and college placement tests provide important information for many college-bound students. They are one metric, among many, that are worth having for transition and college planning.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Diplomas, Graduation Dates and IEP Transition Services Revisited

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Assistant Director, NESCA

Three years ago, on March 26, 2019, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) sent out an important administrative advisory regarding transition services and graduating with a high school diploma (Administrative Advisory SPED 2018-2: Secondary Transition Services and Graduation with a High School Diploma). At the time, I wrote a blog about the advisory, wanting to bring attention to the much-needed guidance clarifying when and how students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) should be issued a high school diploma.

Today, more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, seems like a very important time to revisit what it means for a student on an IEP to be ready to graduate high school with a diploma this June. Given the lengthy school shutdown in Spring 2020—followed by ongoing limitations in social contact, community engagement, employment opportunities, and more—many students and their families are questioning whether they are ready for graduation. In fact, I sat in a team meeting last week where a special educator asked an adult student whether they would like to take their diploma or “refuse” their diploma in June. [This phrasing, “refusing” or “rejecting” a diploma, is often used but is inaccurate as a student is not refusing to take their diploma. Rather, the team is instead delaying or deferring graduation in certain circumstances.]

As a parent and professional regularly involved in the IEP process, a comfort throughout this pandemic is that while education has been reinvented several times, and community safety and engagement is highly variable, special education laws (including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, which outlines the requirement for school districts to provide transition services) remain the same. The decision for a student receiving special education services to take a diploma, or defer taking a diploma, continues to be based primarily on the same variables:

  1. Meeting local graduation requirements;
  2. Passing the state Competency Determination (CD); and
  3. Receiving Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that includes secondary transition services based on age-appropriate transition assessment.

Prior to COVID-19, passing the state CD in Massachusetts typically involved passing on-demand tests in English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics and Science or successfully completing an alternate assessment competency portfolio. For students who have an anticipated graduation date prior to October 1, 2021 (as noted in their most recent signed IEP), something that has changed during the pandemic is that there are now Modified CD requirements that allow for CD in ELA and mathematics to be awarded upon district certification that the student earned full credit for a relevant course aligned to the curriculum framework in the subject matter and demonstrated competency in that subject. A similar Modified CD requirement for science is also available for students graduating in classes of 2021-2023. Therefore, a student who did not pass on-demand MCAS testing in 2019 may be eligible to graduate with a diploma using the Modified CD requirements.

However, as students, their parents, and their education teams ponder June 2021 graduation dates, it is important to keep focus on the same variables that we have always used for considering whether a student is ready to accept a local diploma. Here are some questions that may help when considering these variables.

  1. Has the student met all local graduation requirements? Did they complete the core courses required by the district? Or, were they given credit for courses/activities that varied greatly from courses that general education students completed? What about attendance requirements? Did the student stop attending classes or have a significantly lower rate of attendance than general education peers in the past year? Did the student meet requirements for community service hours or a capstone project if those were required of general education students?
  2. Did the student pass the state Competency Determination? Did the student have the opportunity to participate in MCAS on-demand testing? If they did not, did the student have a track record of passing MCAS tests? Was the student scheduled to graduate this June or did someone from the school district propose changing the student’s graduation date to take advantage of the Modified CD requirements currently being used by the department of education due to COVID-19?
  3. Did the student receive FAPE including secondary transition services based on age-appropriate transition assessment while in high school? Is there a Transition Planning Form (28M/9) that the team has been updating annually? Are there appropriate measurable postsecondary goals in the student’s IEP vision statement that are based on transition assessment (PLEASE remember that interview is an important assessment tool for many students)? Was the student’s voice part of team meetings where transition services were discussed? Does the student’s IEP have measurable goals that will reasonably help the student to progress toward their IEP vision statement? Has the student made effective progress on the goals outlined in the IEP over the past year? Has the student been able to engage in transition services that were described in the IEP? Was the student’s graduation date supposed to be this June or was it “TBD”? And, if appropriate, was a representative of an adult human service agency (e.g., Department of Mental Health, Department of Developmental Services, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing) involved in one or more IEP meetings?

Having missed out on school and community-based activities in the past year can create an immediate concern that a student needs to hang on to their special education protections and should not graduate this June. But the truth is that the pandemic created opportunities for students to generalize skills and practice functional skills, and some students are more ready than ever to move on from special education. And, as I stated in my previous blog, there is no universal set of skills or level of knowledge that deems a student on an IEP “ready” to graduate. In fact, students on IEPs, just as with mainstream students, graduate all the time without being ready for many adult activities (e.g., apartment hunting, changing jobs, applying for a bank loan, comparing health insurance plans).

When you are considering whether the student has received FAPE, it is important to remember that every student missed some typical high school planning steps over the past year. When school buildings closed down and community engagement came to a halt, educators and special educators had to pivot many times. Transition planning steps may have been missed or services may not have been delivered in originally anticipated ways without any clear fault or person to blame. If a student’s progress towards their measurable postsecondary goals was substantially halted, this might be important for the team to discuss. But there are many circumstances where students continued to make progress in spite of the missed opportunities. Perhaps the pandemic even created new opportunities for progress that would not typically be available until a student exits high school (e.g., a paid job, increased self-direction through participation in remote learning, easier access to pre-employment transition services, increased communication with peers through technology, etc.).

Regardless, as you are thinking about graduation, please remember that the most important question to ask is not, “Is my child/student ready to graduate?” Instead, the critical question to ask when a student approaches their graduation date is, “Has the student received a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)?” If the answer is “yes,” it is vital to give the student the opportunity to step into adult postsecondary life and begin applying the skills they have learned through their education and special education. Although the pandemic has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, let’s not fall victim to a pattern of rejecting IEPs (essentially rejecting/refusing diplomas) out of fear.

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, planning, or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

Resources:

Transition Resources and Advisories from MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education:

While this blog includes some specific content that applies only to families of students in IEPs in Massachusetts, the requirement to deliver transition services for students on IEP is a federal mandate and impacts graduation in all states.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

College Transition – Important Considerations for Students with Disabilities who are Making a Final Decision

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Assistant Director, NESCA

May 1st is often referred to as “College Decision Day,” the deadline by which students must submit their deposit and commit to enrolling at the college of their choice. Given that students are applying to an increasing number of colleges, with multiple “safety schools” on their application lists, students are often still comparing and contrasting several prospective college choices during the winter and spring months of their senior year. Moreover, this year, due to the pandemic students may be choosing among colleges they have never visited or making first-time visits to colleges during spring vacation weeks.

There are some common variables that students learn to compare when researching and visiting colleges:

  • Location
  • Cost
  • Scholarships and Financial Aid
  • Size (campus size, number of undergraduate students, class sizes, etc.)
  • Strength and Availability of Majors
  • Retention and Graduation Rates
  • Internships
  • Gut feelings

But, for students with disabilities, there is often additional information that can be useful in making a decision to commit to a particular college. Here are five tips that can be helpful when researching, communicating with, and visiting colleges in order to make a final selection, if not earlier in the college application process:

  • Book an appointment with Disability Support Services (often called Student Accessibility Services). While it is important to ask questions about accommodations offered to students, the process of qualifying for accommodations and/or assistive technology devices/services on campus, it is also important to think about how accessible the services will be for you. Where is the office located on campus? Do you feel comfortable talking with the director and staff? Is the website easy to find and navigate? How easy was it to book the appointment in the first place?
  • Research foreign language requirements. Having a foreign language waiver in high school does not mean that you will qualify for a waiver in college. In fact, having any accommodation or service in high school will not automatically qualify a student for the same support in college. As such, it is important to understand the foreign language requirements of the college and to ask whether the college will allow course substitutions or other accommodations (e.g., pass/fail grading, adjustments to the class participation requirement, etc.). It is important to realize that even colleges that allow substitutions may not be able to do so if the language is central to the student’s chosen major/course of study. If substitutions are not allowed, it is useful to ask about foreign language faculty on campus and to look for foreign languages that may be easier to learn, such as Latin or Greek, which are not spoken.
  • Contact the Office of Residential Life. Not all dorm life is created equal, especially for students with disabilities who require accommodations in college. Ask questions about the leadership structure within the dorms, the training/qualifications for residential directors and residential assistants in the freshman housing, how social relationships are fostered and facilitated within the dorm environment, and how dorm conflicts are resolved. For students who require a medical single (e.g., a single dorm room on the basis of documented social or emotional difficulties, allergies, etc.), elevator access, or a service/support animal, make sure that you confirm not only that these accommodations are available, but also where that housing is available on campus. For instance, single dorm rooms are sometimes only available within dorms or housing complexes that are traditionally reserved for upperclass students, reducing the opportunity for freshman bonding.
  • Research student clubs and organizations. Student participation in clubs and campus activities is known to contribute to the student’s retention, persistence, and success in college. Therefore, researching student groups should be an important aspect of the college selection process for every college student. However, for students with social, emotional, or other disabilities that impact communication and connection with others, participation in student clubs and organizations can also provide exactly the structure needed to assist the student in forging both initial and lasting relationships in college. Therefore, it’s important to research ahead of time and ensure that there are structured groups on campus you can see yourself being part of.
  • Research the college’s Covid-19 plan from this year and for next. For students with disabilities, understanding the impact of Covid-19 on the academics – as well as the social and daily life of the college – is particularly important. How did the college respond when the pandemic first hit? What proportion of classes were they able to offer in person this school year, and what safety precautions were put in place? What was the structure (e.g., synchronous, asynchronous, reverse classroom, etc.) and size of remote classes? Is the college planning to continue offering courses remotely in the fall? If so, what proportion of classes and for which students (e.g., Freshmen? Certain majors?)? Has the college retained most or all of its staff, or has there been a substantial amount of turnover? How available are professors when they are not on campus? Has the college added any additional counseling or mental health supports for students?

Certainly, the college search and selection processes are different for each student, both with and without disabilities. But my hope is that this list of considerations helps to make this difficult decision-making process easier. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that there is not just one perfect school for a student. There are lots of places where you can be successful and happy, and your job is just to make the best decision you can for yourself.

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Changes in Transitioning from School-based Services to DDS Adult Services during COVID-19

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Assistant Director, NESCA

Transitioning from public education to adult human service supports is a complicated process that we have covered in several blogs over the years here at NESCA, including the two recent resources linked below:

As with many aspects of life, the existence of a global pandemic has complicated the transition process even more. In Massachusetts, Chapter 688 referrals (the referrals that help adult agencies to request the appropriate amount of funding from the state for supporting students with disabilities after they turn 22) were down by as much as 75% in September 2020. Additionally, referral processes that often were carried out in 2-4 months are taking much longer. In fact, at a team meeting I attended last week, a special education administrator shared that it had taken approximately 9 months to complete a recent referral to the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) for a student seeking adult autism services.

[For those unfamiliar with DDS, this is the agency that offers services and supports for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).]

To better support transitioning families, DDS recently developed an information sheet that highlights some of the potential changes and challenges families may experience when preparing for their transition to DDS adult service supports during COVID-19. In addition to modified referral timelines, the information sheet touches on changes in how families learn about day and residential programs (e.g., virtual tours) and the ways in which programs may have changed their approaches to service delivery as a result of COVID-19 (e.g., changes to community employment, remote and in-person offerings, visitor policies, etc.).

This DDS information sheet is helpful for professionals and families and is available in several languages on the state’s web site: https://www.mass.gov/lists/transition-considerations-during-covid-19.

 

For families who are struggling to navigate the transition from high school to adult service support, to understand available resources and benefits during or after public education, to create an effective plan for their child during a lapse in service delivery, or with any other transition planning issues, NESCA transition consultation and planning services are here to support you. Visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs or fill out an Intake Form to schedule an appointment with one of our expert transition specialists today.

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Transition Assessment: What is it anyway? How is it different from neuropsychological evaluation?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Assistant Director, NESCA

If you have a child who receives special education services or work in education, you are likely familiar with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004). This is the law that guarantees students with disabilities the right to free appropriate public education (FAPE) and that dictates that the purpose of special education and related services is to prepare students with disabilities for further education, employment, and independent living.

IDEA 2004 mandates that students have measurable postsecondary goals written in their individualized educational programs (IEPs), that describe the outcomes that a team expects for the student to achieve after exiting public education and that these goals must be “based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and where appropriate, independent living skills.”[1] But, IDEA 2004 does not specifically define transition assessment.

Instead, the best and most commonly accepted definition for transition assessment comes from the Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT). DCDT defines transition assessment as an “…ongoing process of collecting data on the individual’s needs, preferences, and interests as they relate to the demands of current and future working, educational, living, and personal and social environments.”[2]

Transition assessment can include formal testing, such as a standardized, published tests that compare students to others by age or grade or informal activities, such as interviewing or observing a student. Most students who are transition-aged (i.e., 14 or older in Massachusetts; 16 by federal law) have already had some assessments that will inform their transition planning, such as school evaluations, private evaluations, standardized academic testing, report cards, or even activities that happen within their guidance curriculum (e.g., assessment of strengths, learning style, personality type, career interests). But often, there will still be some testing needed to help better determine a student’s strengths and aptitudes, their preferences and interests for postsecondary adult life, and the gaps between their current knowledge and abilities and the requirements of the living, learning, and working environments in which they plan to function when they exit high school.

At NESCA, transition assessment is a highly individualized process that is designed to get a better sense of a student’s postsecondary living, learning, social, and vocational goals, to determine the strengths the student has that will help them reach those goals as well as the skills a student needs to develop to get there. While it is rare for two students to have the same assessment battery, transition assessment at NESCA often evaluates abilities, such as self-care, self-direction, self-advocacy, career interests, career aptitudes, communication, community use, functional academics, health and safety, domestic skills, leisure, readiness for college or other forms of postsecondary learning and training, transferrable work skills and readiness for employment. Once the student’s profile is understood, specific recommendations, aimed at readying that student for transition from high school to the next phase of life, are provided.

Often parents of transition-aged students are familiar with the term “neuropsychological evaluation“ and a student may have even had this type of private evaluation. But there can be some confusion regarding the difference between these two types of comprehensive testing. Neuropsychological evaluation focuses primarily on a student’s learning profile and the fit of that learner within their current academic setting. A good neuropsychological evaluation is a comprehensive assessment of a child’s functioning in many domains, including communication, visual-spatial ability, problem solving, memory, attention, social skills, and emotional status. The assessment of these functions is based upon information obtained from the child’s history, clinical observations, and testing results. Moreover, one of the most important aspects of a neuropsychological evaluation is the integration of all the information about a child into a meaningful profile of functioning that describes “The Whole Child.”

In contrast, a transition assessment evaluates the fit between a student and their future preferred learning, living, and employment activities and environments. While information from a neuropsychological evaluation about a student’s learning profile is greatly informative, a transition assessment gives equal weight to a student’s daily living skills, social skills, coping skills, pre-vocational skills, career interests and preferences, and self-advocacy skills. While transition assessments provide detailed recommendations related to current educational programming and transition services, a strong focus of transition assessment is an emphasis on what will be needed now, and in the near future, to assist a student in functioning, and, actually being successful and satisfied, in their postsecondary adult life.

For more information about transition assessment at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

[1] 34 CFR § 300.320(b)

[2] Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT) of the Council for Exceptional Children, 1997, p. 70-71

 

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Transition Planning for Adulthood—It Starts at Birth

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist

There are many transitions throughout a person’s life, but as a transition specialist working at a pediatric neuropsychology practice, my focus is most often on helping students who have struggled with learning, social and/or emotional difficulties to plan for and successfully navigate the transition from secondary school to whatever comes next in life (e.g., employment, transition program, community college, apprenticeship, etc.). I focus on helping young people envision their future selves and set short- and long-term goals for themselves—putting them into the driver’s seat for their own lives and helping them manage the risks and responsibilities that come with making choices for themselves.

When a family walks into my office for the first time, it is common for one parent or caretaker to worry aloud that they are starting transition planning for their child “too late.” I consistently respond that it is never too late to start planning and to begin transferring responsibility from one generation to the next. But today, I also want to emphasize that “it’s never too early” to start to plan for your child to be a more independent and competent adult—the best transition planning starts at birth.

Some common examples of transitions that start at a very early age that many parents and caregivers can relate to are: a child sleeping through the night for the first time unsupported, holding a cup and drinking without spilling, feeding oneself with a spoon, and/or riding a bicycle. Each of these activities is an example of a child building competence and independence while their parents simultaneously relinquish some amount of control. Often times, mistakes, messes and even pain are a natural part of the process.

From a young age, there are many skills that children can learn that will make a big difference for them later in life. Some examples include:

  • Picking out clothes for the next morning
  • Putting dirty clothes in a hamper
  • Loading the washing machine
  • Putting clean clothes away in drawers
  • Washing hands before eating, after using the bathroom and after playing outside
  • Setting the table (maybe not plates or glasses, but perhaps napkins, forks and spoons)
  • Carrying dishes to the counter and placing them next to the sink after dinner—or even in the dishwasher
  • Putting their own garbage in the trash
  • Collecting small trash bins to dump into a larger bin/bag on trash day
  • Helping to pack their own lunch
  • Helping to prep a meal (e.g., washing veggies, pouring ingredients, etc.)
  • Getting condiments from the refrigerator and putting them away after dinner
  • Getting a snack for self or a sibling from the refrigerator or pantry
  • Wiping down the table after a meal
  • Feeding/providing water for pets
  • Weeding
  • Raking leaves
  • Shoveling snow
  • Helping to get the mail
  • Brainstorming for/making a shopping list
  • Finding assigned items at the grocery store
  • Carrying light grocery bags
  • Helping to pack belongings for a family trip
  • Making gifts/cards for a celebration
  • Budgeting a few dollars to buy inexpensive but thoughtful gifts for family members

Some of these will apply to your child and some of them will not. And some of these may require adding time to your schedule, allowing a child to complete tasks at their own pace, or doing some household reorganization, allowing a child to access items necessary to complete tasks. Finally, a lot of deep breathing and patience—for both you and your child—will be required!

At any point in time, you can identify a task  you regularly do for your child and consider where there are pieces they can do for themselves. If your only role in the task is to prompt your child, consider whether there might be a low-technology tool (post-it, photograph) or high-technology tool (alarm, phone reminder) that could take the place of your prompt. If you are not sure how to make a change, it may be a good time to get help from a teacher, pediatrician, behavioral therapist, special educator, etc.

The important thing is that you are starting to think about where there is a potential for increasing competence, independence, confidence and self-esteem for your child. You are starting to plan for your own obsolescence in your child’s life, or at least in their carrying out every day self-care activities and chores. While that is a scary thing, it is also a beautiful and empowering thing!

*This blog was originally published in August, 2019.

 

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Linking Strengths and Interests to College Majors and Careers: The MassHire Career Information System

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Assistant Director, NESCA

Due to Covid-19, many schools are functioning in a hybrid or remote learning status, making access to school-based guidance counselors, college counselors and transition personnel more complicated. Consequently, I am working with an unusually high number of high school students and families to provide assistance with the college selection and admissions process this year. For these students and others, working with a private transition specialist or college consultant/coach provides the structure and consistent support needed to ensure the student is able to find colleges that will be a great match, highlight the student’s strengths as a college applicant and complete the application process efficiently. Most importantly, the added support reduces anxiety—which is a natural response to the college process as well as living through a pandemic.

There are so many factors to consider when choosing a college—size, religion, location, tuition and fees, availability of internships, academic support, etc.—and one of the most important differentiating factors is often the availability of majors that a student is interested in. As such, career exploration is a very important part of my work with college-bound students. There are certainly many online resources that are useful for career exploration—YouScience, O*NET OnLine, Naviance, Khan Academy, Dr. Kit, CareerOneStop, etc.—but my personal favorite site to help teenagers learn to use is MassHire Career Information System (Previously MassCIS; https://portal.masscis.intocareers.org/).

MassHire CIS is a portal that any individual, from middle school to adulthood, can access for free by logging in with their Massachusetts City or Town Name and their Zip Code. Once inside, users can complete assessments related to their interests, skills and values, preferred lifestyle and more. The site also allows students to link results from previously taken career assessments to information about occupations and occupation categories within MassHire CIS.

Using career interests, from assessments or just a self-reported interest (e.g., photographer, elementary school teacher, personal trainer), users can research occupations and find out everything from the tasks associated with the occupation, to helpful high school courses that relate to the job, and expected future wages and occupational outlook. Users can also watch videos to learn more about occupations.

Importantly, users can easily click from careers of interest to programs of study and ultimately to Massachusetts Schools or other US Colleges and Universities that offer majors leading to occupations of interest.

MassHire CIS is one of my favorite resources to share with teens, young adults and families as part of a college transition process—but also when students are building career awareness at other times or seeking a different path to employment. I hope that by spotlighting this in my blog, more families, educators and professionals will also explore and adopt this resource as a favorite!

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Transition Goals: What are they and why do they matter in the IEP process?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist

As an evaluator and consultant, I spend a lot of time in team meetings. Usually, I expect to be invited to more of these at the beginning of the school year when teams meet to review assessments or important changes that have occurred during summer months. This year, there will be an unprecedented high number of team meetings early in the school year as families and schools strive to make up for time lost during COVID-19 related school closures. Therefore, it seems timely to write my blog on transition goals and their role in the IEP process.

For all students with individualized educational programs (IEPs), teams are accustomed to writing and implementing annual goals. But, for students 16 and older across the country (or students in Massachusetts who will be turning 14 and older during this IEP period), their IEP process also needs to include transition goals. What is confusing about transition goals is that we commonly used this verbiage to describe a few different components of the IEP for transition-aged students.

In my opinion, the most important transition goals, are the measurable postsecondary goals, that are included in the IEP and which describe the outcomes that a team expects for the student to achieve after exiting public education and which are based on the student’s own strengths, preferences, interests and vision. Every IEP across the country must include measurable postsecondary goals. In Massachusetts, postsecondary goals are documented in the student’s vision statement. Before the student became transition aged, the vision statement typically described the family’s and team’s expectations and dreams for the student over the next 1 to 5 years. For IEPs of students turning 14 and older, the vision statement needs to include explicit statements about the outcomes that are expected for the student in transition planning areas. Postsecondary goals for education or training as well as employment are required for all students on IEPs, and many students will also have independent living and community participation goals.

Below is a formula for writing a postsecondary goal that is adapted from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT):


Within 2 months of graduation, Joseph will participate in supported employment training and community-based training with assistance from MA Department of Developmental Services.A few examples of measurable postsecondary goals are included below:

  • After earning her diploma, Sarah will attend a four-year college in Massachusetts or New Hampshire (and major in education or child development).
  • After graduation, Tom will work part-time at TJ Maxx with support from his coworkers and supervisor.
  • After high school, Joseph will use public transportation (e.g., subway, bus) to get to and from his apprenticeship.

Unlike annual goals, measurable postsecondary goals are not goals that will be achieved in the calendar year or even while the student is on an IEP. However, there is another type of “transition goal” that is closely related. Once an IEP team has clearly defined a student’s postsecondary goals, they are required to identify transition services that the student will need to make progress toward these goals. When the IEP is developed, the IEP must include annual IEP goals that clearly and directly relate to the student’s postsecondary goals and transition service needs. For example, a student who wants to attend college may need annual goals related to building executive functioning, self-advocacy and college-level academic skills; while a student who wants to use human service supports for community-based employment may need to build communication, self-regulation and work readiness skills. Annual IEP goals should be based on the student’s disability-related needs and also their postsecondary goals—Given the student’s disabilities, what skills does the student need to build this year to be able to attain their postsecondary goals in the future?

 

Special education is about preparing students for future education, employment, independent living and community engagement. Measurable postsecondary goals are how we make sure that special education is individualized for each student, and transition-related annual IEP goals are how we make sure we are progressing toward the postsecondary goals. When we know what the student wants for their adult postsecondary life, we can use the IEP process to help the student build academic and functional skills that can support the student in achieving that vision.

The next time you look at an IEP, take a look at the vision statement (or the section where your state records measurable postsecondary goals). Can you clearly tell what the student wants to do after high school? Are there both employment and education or training goals included? What about independent living and community engagement? These measurable postsecondary goals are the guide posts that provide direction for the IEP process and ensure that the team is working together in support of results and outcomes that will support the student throughout their lifespan.

For more information about postsecondary goals and annual IEP goals in Massachusetts, check out Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process from MA DESE: http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/13_1ta.html

This link to a presenter’s guide for a presentation on Improving Secondary Transition Services from NTACT is also a great resource for understanding the role of postsecondary goals and annual goals in the IEP process as outlined in IDEA: https://www.transitionta.org/system/files/resourcetrees/I13_One_Hour_Presenter_Guide_FINAL2019.pptx

 

About the Author:

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.