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Transition Planning at IEP Team Meetings – The Good, The Fun and The Beautiful

By January 27, 2020NESCA Notes 2019

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

Transition planning is a complicated process for schools, families and related service professionals. It is not something that can be done well without key ingredients, such as open minds, collaboration and creative brain power… not to mention time. But when good transition planning happens in the context of a team meeting, it is a really powerful and awesome process – and even, dare I say, fun!

I recently worked with a young woman – let us call her Julie – who had spent four years of high school in a small therapeutic program. It took Julie, with great support from her team, a lot of effort to get through the academic demands of high school while simultaneously managing and remediating social and emotional complexities. As Julie progressed through her senior year, her school team recognized that she had not had the time or opportunities to build some critical life skills, including the self-advocacy and executive function skills she would need to manage post-secondary, real-world activities. Everyone agreed that she needed another year to build and generalize the functional skills that are essential for being a student in a post-secondary learning environment and to be deemed employable. With no option available for Julie to continue in her therapeutic school program, the team agreed to set up a meeting to create a new IEP that focused largely on Julie’s remaining transition-focused needs. Due to time constraints, the team meeting occurred at the start of this school year.

I was fortunate to be invited to consult at this meeting. After introductions, we dug in together to review Julie’s most recent transition evaluation. Julie had a thorough evaluation that had been completed by the school district, which provided a lot of information about her disability-related needs as well as her vision and interests. We talked about the most pressing areas to address in developing the IEP goals and debated options for creatively writing the annual goals in the IEP document (i.e. whether to focus annual goals on life, vocational and college participation skills with objectives related to social, emotional, executive functioning and self-advocacy issues in each arena or whether to employ a more traditional IEP format with seven goal areas).

We discussed objectives that would be most useful in the context of Julie’s long-term goals – attaining a college degree and working as a nutritionist. Julie’s mom had done a great deal of work prior to the team meeting, helping Julie apply to Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services, connecting with the local agency contracted to provide Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), and setting up Julie’s first internship experience for the summer. She also helped Julie to sign up for an adaptive driver’s education class to occur on weekends throughout the fall. Julie’s mother had also researched options for college classes that Julie might be able to participate in, even though she had missed the start of many fall classes.

Julie’s Special Education Director had worked equally hard in looking into resources within the school district and community that could provide Julie with meaningful activities and experiences and assist her in making progress with the skills outlined in the transition assessment. One such resource identified by Julie’s Special Education Director was a non-profit social skills group. Another resource was a coach who could provide hands-on support on a college campus and was already in place as part of a postgraduate program run through a nearby district. The Director also identified several staff withing the school district who were experienced in supporting transition-age students – the school social worker and lead teacher within the school’s therapeutic program – who could work with Julie.

We gathered in a room together not to talk about a program that already existed, but to design the individualized, unique transition program that Julie required. We brainstormed options for shoring up her writing skills with such approaches as drafting an independent research paper on being a nutritionist and participating in a dual enrollment college writing class. We thought of ways to build money management skills through an online personal finance class with school support and real-life practice by visiting her local bank and several ATMs with her school’s occupational therapist.

When we left the meeting, we had designed a brand new program for Julie that would satisfy her needs in the areas of social, emotional, self-advocacy, executive functioning, adaptive and vocational skills development through a combination of school-, community- and home-based activities, with defined support from the school district, community agencies and her family. Everyone left the meeting ready to carry out the next steps of planning for Julie, with roles and responsibilities clearly outlined to initiate the activities that would hopefully propel Julie toward greater independence and satisfaction in her adult life.

This is just one example of a great team meeting that I have been a part of this school year. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute to many of these meetings as well as some of the more challenging ones. After this meeting, I drove all the way home smiling about how much can be accomplished in a 75-minute team meeting when everyone comes to the table thinking about the student, willing to brainstorm, interested in collaborative problem-solving, thinking outside the box, and eager to share responsibility in supporting the student.

Certainly, there are many times when a school district or local collaborative already has a great program and peer group that will work for a student’s post-12th-grade needs, but, as a Transition Specialist, it is truly a lot of fun when everyone is ready to roll their sleeves up and pitch in to create a new tailored individualized education program that taps into the internal resources available to the student and school, while adding community supports and services as appropriate.

In thinking about what makes transition planning at IEP team meetings, such as Julie’s, notably successful, the following “ingredients” stand out:

  • The meeting focuses on the student, with the student’s vision presented at the start of the meeting (ideally by the student), and the team is in agreement about supporting that vision;
  • Team members come to the table eager to work with one another, willing to problem-solve, ask questions, listen to feedback and build on one another’s ideas;
  • There is good assessment data to inform the team process, whereby the team has a good sense of the student’s strengths, preferences and needs, and works together to prioritize what has to be addressed through the IEP; and
  • Team members come to the table knowing what resources exist inside and outside of the school program, with parents and educators having researched and reached out to invite new team members who may know about internal and external resources.

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.