The expression, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is never more true than when talking about a child with a disability. Young people with disabilities need a support system that recognizes their individual strengths, interests, fears, and dreams and allows them to take charge of their future. Parents, teachers, family members, and friends in the community who offer informal guidance, support, and love can create the “village” for every child.
Yet when young adults with disabilities are preparing to make the transition from high school to work or postsecondary school, their “village” may be forgotten in the rush to secure new services from programs and systems that provide support for adults with disabilities. These crucial supports may include vocational rehabilitation, day training programs, Social Security, Medicaid waivers, housing, and transportation support. In contrast to a young person’s informal support network, systems tend to use relatively impersonal and formal methods of assessment. Case managers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and county social workers often have large caseloads as well as a limited amount of time to know the individual needs and abilities of each student on their caseload.
Responsibility for maintaining the “village” is usually left to the family or parents of the student who is graduating. However, parents have little time to become experts on the range of supports available to their child after high school. It is not surprising that the invaluable, informal supports available from a young person’s “village” often remain untapped or underdeveloped while families focus on accessing adult services.
This does not need to be the case. Use of a person-centered planning process with young adults with disabilities as they go through transition can unite formal and informal systems of support. By combining resources and working intentionally toward a common goal, families and professionals can achieve more positive outcomes for youth with disabilities, while at the same time putting long-term community supports in place.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA ’97) requires that a student’s Individualized Education Program include transition planning by age 14 or earlier, if appropriate. This plan should reflect a student’s interests and preferences, current accomplishments and skills, what they still need to learn, as well as what they want to do in life. This can include a range of goals—everything from the type of career the student would like to pursue to the kind of living situation he or she hopes to have. Person-centered planning is a way to identify a student’s individual goals and to help students, families, and professionals craft plans that will support students as they strive to achieve their dreams.
At its best, the person-centered planning process can strengthen the transition to post-school activities by:
(a) As used in this part, transition services means a coordinated set of activities for a student with a disability that-
(ii) Related services;
(iii) Community experiences;
(iv) The development of employment or other post-school adult living objectives; and
(v) If appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.
(b) Transition services for students with disabilities may be special education, if provided as specially designed instruction, or related services, if required to assist a student with a disability to benefit from special education.
(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1401(30))
The IEP must include-
(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A))
Parents and families can begin the process of person-centered planning for their son or daughter with a disability by choosing a facilitator. A facilitator needs to be a good listener, work creatively to shape the dreams of the individual, discover the capacities within the individual and within the community, and be a community builder.
An initial meeting to develop the personal profile usually occurs several days before the planning meeting so the participants have time to reflect on what is shared. The meeting takes about two hours.
Parents/families and the person with a disability will:
Work the action plan. Implementing the plan can require persistence, problem solving, and creativity. Periodically bring the team together again to discuss what parts of the plan are working and what parts are not. Once more, identify what is to be done, who will do it, when the action will happen, and when you will meet again.
Make sure that at each follow-up meeting the team:
Note: Adapted from Mount, B. & Zwernik, K. (1994). Making futures happen: A manual for facilitators of personal futures planning. Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities.
It is critical for the young adult with a disability to actively participate in the transition planning meetings. This might involve advance preparation, such as asking the student to talk individually with each team member before the meeting or helping the student craft a written invitation for each team member. It is very easy for adults to take over, making the young person a passive observer instead of a leader in the process. The team must make conscious efforts to provide the young person with ways to express his or her own dreams for the future, agree or disagree with other members of the team, and be actively involved in the team’s ongoing efforts. Students with all types of disabilities—regardless of the severity of the disabilities—should be included in the transition planning process.
Young adults also have a number of responsibilities when it comes to participating in and leading their transition planning meetings. They need to think about what they really want for the future, identify what kind of help and support they might need to achieve their goals, and come prepared to share this information with their team.
Despite growing interest in using person-centered planning to drive the transition process, it is not yet common practice. One reason for this may be that many people believe this process is too time consuming. What they may not realize is that person-centered planning may be more efficient in the long run. The best transition plans truly reflect student-family goals for the future, which helps the team avoid time-consuming guesswork. People certainly learn from their mistakes, but a person-centered planning process can help teams to produce a much more accurate reflection of the young adult’s goals and at the same time, go to the heart of what is needed by the young adult and family much earlier.
In addition to the family, the young adult, and special educators, the person-centered planning process can also involve county case managers, social workers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and health care professionals. Including adult service providers in person-centered planning can help ensure a seamless transition from special education to adult services. Just as person-centered planning can enhance the transition planning process for a student with disabilities, it can be a tool to improve individualized plans for employment (IPEs) as well as other adult service plans for young adults with disabilities who are eligible to receive those services.
In addition to including professionals and service providers, it is essential that person-centered planning teams include individuals who are familiar with the abilities, interests, and needs of the young adult in work, school, or social settings, and who are willing to help. These supportive individuals or “natural supports” can be family members, friends, neighbors, former teachers, or other caring and knowledgeable individuals who know the young adult.
Forming the person-centered planning team provides families with an opportunity to involve individuals who want to help in ways that make a difference. These individuals, in turn, can often provide access to broader and more integrated opportunities in community settings than a professional can. Some examples of how an informal support person can help young adults pursue and achieve their goals include:
The insight of family and friends can complement and enhance the expertise of the professionals on the team. For example, the team might discuss how a person’s strengths equate to job skills and how the person’s interests and abilities match specific career areas, jobs, and employers. The team might also discuss other employment-related needs, such as transportation or assistive technology.
Involving friends and neighbors who are unfamiliar with traditional forms of service delivery can actually be an asset, because it can foster more creative problem solving. Relatives and friends can also help families develop a “safety net” of informal community supports to assist a young person when parents are not available or if formal supports break down.
The team should meet as often as members and the young person want in order to discuss their goals and support needs. Follow-up meetings should be scheduled as needed to find out how the young adult is achieving those goals or if their goals have changed. However, no matter how often a team meets, a plan is just a piece of paper if it is not put into action. One way to make sure the plan leads to action is to have the young adult, family, or team choose a facilitator. The facilitator can lead the meetings by identifying and formulating questions during the meeting and organizing important points from general statements. The facilitator can also delegate responsibilities to other team members.
For example, if the team is focusing on employment after high school, the facilitator could have one person take responsibility for helping the young adult find an internship or job-shadowing opportunity. Someone else could help the young adult find appropriate transportation. Each team member assumes responsibility for a specific task that is outlined in the plan. At the next meeting, the team members discuss their progress and modify the plan as necessary.
It is a good idea for the team to have someone responsible (parent, facilitator, or a designated case manager) for follow-up—someone who can check with other members to see how they are progressing.
The team must determine its own comfort level with the goals of the individual. However, how the team feels about the goals and how the young adult feels may be two very different things. Supporting young adults to learn about and further explore their dreams for the future is the proactive solution to this situation. As a result of this exploration, a young adult may decide that his or her goal is not necessarily a good match. However, the exploration process can be a memorable learning experience, a valuable way of learning about one’s self, and ultimately an important way of discovering other pathways to success. It is important to realize that failure is not necessarily something to be avoided; it is a natural part of life. More importantly, a person with a disability who is protected from failure is also protected from potential success. Helping young people with disabilities pursue challenging goals provides them with invaluable opportunities for self-discovery, as well as the opportunity to surpass expectations and to actually succeed in achieving their goals.
Many different person-centered planning tools have been developed that could be used in the transition process--
The following are some online resources with more information on person-centered planning tools.
Parent Center Resources on Person-Centered Planning
University and Government Resources on Person-Centered Planning
Mount, B. & Zwernik, K. (1994). Making futures happen: A manual for facilitators of personal futures planning. Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities.
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