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  2. How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities
  3. Transition Age Youth with Disabilities: How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference

Transition Age Youth with Disabilities: How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference

Strategies and Resources

Because successful transition planning for youth and young adults with disabilities should begin well before the student reaches “transition age,” and should ideally involve multiple parties and agencies, the process may be especially complex. Effective communication and collaboration between key agencies is essential. Transition activities need to be coordinated, youth-focused, and results-oriented, addressing needs in the areas of

  • employment;
  • high school graduation and dropout prevention;
  • postsecondary education;
  • vocational education;
  • healthcare;
  • community and civic engagement;
  • relationships with friends and family;
  • daily living skills; and
  • housing.1

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Considerations for Transition Planning for Youth in Juvenile Justice and Foster Care

Planning for post-high school experiences for students who have disabilities and who are also involved with the juvenile justice system requires not only consideration of the student’s interests and strengths—as required by IDEA 2004—but also a comprehensive and coordinated approach that supports the student’s educational development in the context of developing skills for successful community living and possibly navigating the justice system. The National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Children and Youth who are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk recommends family-driven, youth-guided collaborative planning in which “performance and outcomes must be monitored through an established plan with the responsibility for the assessment being assigned to either an education liaison or volunteer mentors.”2

Transition planning for youth and young adults with disabilities who are in foster care should begin as early as possible and no later than age 16. Working closely with the Individual Education Plan (IEP) team and connecting to federal programs designed to support transition to adulthood, foster care youth can chart a successful course toward post-high school education, employment, and independent living. 

Key Elements of Successful Transition Plans

A key goal of transition planning is not just to “transition out” into the community, but also to focus on helping the young person thrive and flourish as an adult, with the wide range of skills and activities that adult living requires.3 Planning involves careful consideration of available resources (such as social security disability benefits, health insurance, Medicaid, assistive technology grants, funding for housing, etc.), as well as navigation of information and services provided by multiple organizations and agencies, such as

  • independent living centers;
  • employment agencies;
  • one-stop centers;
  • postsecondary education providers;
  • recreation centers;
  • the Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment;
  • vocational rehabilitation services;
  • assistive technology centers; and
  • young adult advocacy organizations, such as Youth MOVE.

Though there are many components of a successful transition plan, key areas to focus on include self-advocacy/self-determination, post-secondary education and training, employment, and community living.


The most critical consideration of the IEP and transition planning process is the involvement and engagement of the youth or young adult. This ensures both that his or her needs, interests, and desires are represented, and that the youth gains or practices necessary skills in self-advocacy. Youth and young adults who do not have disabilities plan and dream about the future, and are usually agents in their own destinies. Wherever possible, students with disabilities should have the same opportunities for self-determination in planning their lives, and expressing their wishes and hopes for the future.4  Participation in planning enables youth and young adults with disabilities to gain valuable experience with goal setting, locating resources and support, and advocating for themselves within their community. These experiences are critical for success beyond the classroom, and are an important component of transition planning.5 Research demonstrates a connection between student self-advocacy and improved academic and post-school outcomes; therefore students with disabilities should be encouraged and empowered to participate actively and even to lead the development of their IEPs.6

Post-Secondary Education and Training

As schools work to develop “College and Career-Ready Students,”7 an emphasis on preparation for post-secondary education and employment should shape transition planning.  When a student with a disability completes high school with a regular high school diploma, the school district is required to provide the student with a Summary of Performance (SOP).8

The purpose of the SOP is to provide information to post-secondary education institutions and to prospective employers on the young adult’s capabilities, strengths, and skills as demonstrated in high school, as well as a description of the types of supports that contributed to successful performance as a student, and recommendations on how to assist in meeting his or her post-secondary goals. The SOP is not, itself, documentation of eligibility for services or programs. It may, however, include information that will assist those making future eligibility determinations.9  Effective transition planning practices can include a student-developed SOP, which reflects the student’s own description of his or her high school accomplishments and the supports needed to reach post-secondary goal(s). While it is the school district’s responsibility to provide an SOP to the student, students can benefit from direct involvement in understanding and articulating ways in which they can meet their post-school goals.10


Because many people with disabilities may at some point be unemployed or underemployed, or may face discrimination in the workplace, a transition plan that addresses employment needs, necessary supports, and skill development is essential. This may include curricula that address workplace culture and routines, job placement assistance, apprenticeships, and skills needed for interviewing, as well as rights in the workplace under the Americans with Disabilities Act.11 Supported employment in the form of job coaches, job development, training, transportation, and assistive technology can help youth with disabilities find and maintain jobs.12

Community Living

Often, transition planning teams focus primarily on employment options and neglect to consider skills necessary for youth with disabilities to become active and productive members of their communities. Finding friends, enjoying leisure activities, and participating in community events should all be considered key components of transition planning. Depending on a student’s interests and needs, these could include field trips (both virtually and in person) to various community locations, agencies, and recreation centers. Teams may also consider adaptive devices, equipment, and technologies that can help the young person achieve a healthy lifestyle and participate in recreational activities.

1 Morningstar, Lattin, & Sarkesian, 2009; NICHCY, n.d; Stenhjem, 2005.
2 Gonsoulin & Read, 2011
3 Morningstar, Lattin, & Sarkesian, 2009
4 IDEA Partnership, n.d.; Morningstar, Lattin, & Sarkesian, 2009
5 Wehmeyer et al., 2007
6 Martin et al., 2007
7 U.S. Department of Education, 2010
8 A Summary of Performance is a summary of the child’s academic achievement and functional performance, which shall include recommendations on how to assist the child in meeting the child’s postsecondary goals. 34 CFR 300.305 (e)(3)
9 U.S. Department of Education, 2009, Revised 2011
10 Martin et al., 2007
11 American with Disabilities Act, 1990 as amended, ADA Ammendments Act ,2008 (P.L. 110-325)
12 West et al., 2005