If you are a parent or caregiver of a school-age child with autism, you already are an expert at special education. Much of your focus has likely been on reviewing annual goals and tracking your child’s progress over the course of a school year. But at some point, it will be important and necessary to start looking at your child’s special education programming through a slightly different lens. One that looks further into the future and begins to think about and formulate the plan for your child’s transition from high school to whatever comes next.

As defined by the Office of the Education Ombudsman, transition services are “a coordinated set of activities for a student with a disability designed to help a student move from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational training, integrated employment, continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, and community participation” (June, 2008). While the actual design of the program for students that are eligible to receive services from 18-21 years of age does vary from district to district, there are some things that as a parent, you should know as you begin to consider your child’s transition plan. These include the following:

• Under federal rules, students with disabilities are entitled and eligible to receive services in their school district until they reach the age of 21.

• While transition planning prepares for the services to be rendered to a student from 18-21 years of age, federal rules define transition as beginning at age 16. This means that the IEP team is required to have the transition plan developed and included in the first IEP in effect when the child turns 16. (Of note, prior to an amendment in 2004, transition planning had to begin when a child turned 14. It is therefore appropriate for parents to consider bringing the agenda of transition planning to the table, shortly after their child enters high school.)

Resources to help you navigate the transition from high school:

Adolescent Health Transition Project by The Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD) at the University of Washington. This is a resource guide for teens and young adults with special health care needs, chronic illness, physical or developmental disabilities.

Are you Ready? by The Arc of King County.

Life Journey through Autism: A guide for transition to adulthood by the Organization for Autism Research.

Transition Tool Kit by Autism Speaks. This site also provides a link to resource guides that contain transition information specific to each state.