As most adults know from their own experience, the period known as adolescence is probably the most difficult and unsettling period of adjustment in one's development. It is a time filled with physical, emotional, and social upheavals. Until a child leaves secondary school, a parent experiences a sense of protective control over the child's life. This protective guidance normally involves educational, medical, financial, and social input to assist the child's growth. When the child leaves this setting, a parent undergoes a personal struggle in "letting go." There is always a certain amount of apprehension associated with the child's entrance into the adult world, as the greater responsibility for adjustment now falls on the child and the parent's role diminishes.
For the child with a disability, this developmental period can be fraught with even greater apprehension, for a variety of reasons. Depending on the nature and severity of the disability, special education professionals and parents may play more of an ongoing role in the child's life even after he or she leaves secondary education. Historically, parents and their children have spent years actively involved in Individual Educational Plan (IEP) development and meetings, transitional IEP (ITEP) development, and Committee on Special Education (CSE) meetings concerning educational and developmental welfare. Depending on the mental competence (the capability to make reasoned decisions) of the child with disabilities, some parents may have to continue to make vital decisions affecting all aspects of their children's lives; they need not shy away, thinking that they are being too overprotective if they are involved in the child's life after the child leaves school. On the other hand, the parents of children not affected by diminished mental competence should use all their energies to encourage the child's steps toward independence.
Since planning for the future of a student with disabilities can arouse fear of the unknown, a parent may tend to delay addressing these issues, and instead focus only on the present. It is our belief, however, that working through these fears and thinking about the child's best future interest will ensure a meaningful outcome. Regardless of the nature and severity of a disability, parents will be exposed to a transitional process during the child's school years that will provide a foundation for the adult world. This transitional process will include many facets of planning for the future and should be fully understood by everyone concerned each step of the way. Planning for the future is an investment in a child's well being and the purpose of this section of NASET is to help you understand all the aspects of this important time.
If you are a special education professional or professional, working with students 14 and older than you will need to be fully informed of all the areas involved in the transition phase. While you will not be directly involved in many of these areas, you can assist the parent through awareness, information, and support. Knowing what students and parents must face in order to successfully transition into adult life is a crucial part of special education for children ages 14-21.NASET hopes this section will provide that education and awareness.