The transition plan is a required component of IEPs for students 16 years old or older, although most systems do it at age 14, presumably before the student begins high school. For all the anxiety over all the other parts of the IEP, this section probably involves a great deal more fear over the uncertainty of the future. And it should. The end goal of all educational efforts (regular and special education) is a successful transition into adulthood and post-school life. Hopefully the student will be able to live and work independently. But with students with special needs, this is often not the case. As a parent who functions in the role of educational undertaker, it is all too frightening. Fortunately I have 12 years or so before having to facing that eventuality. Some of you parents do not have that luxury.
The purpose of the transition plan (known in some districts as an ITP (individual transition plan) is to plan for what that student will do after high school and then map out a course for getting them there. Is the student working towards a regular education diploma? Will they go to college? Will they live in a group home? Will they require services from vocational rehabilitation services?
Generally we try to list student preferences, interests and abilities, and then look at possibilities. As the years go by, the ITP should become more detailed and focused. As part of this plan, the student is informed in the year he/she turns 17 that all rights transfer to them. IOW, the student is the one who has parental rights, the student is the one who accepts or rejects service options etc. As a courtesy, schools keep parents involved. But they don’t have to.
My students, who are severe, are no exception. Rights transfer to them UNLESS the parent applies for and obtains guardianship of that student. I’ll probably discuss this issue in a later post since it involves some detail, but parents should initiate this process soon after the student turns 17. The process takes away rights from the student and grants them to the guardian by declaring the student incompetent. But it is a necessary process, because it protects the student from being abused and taken advantage of by the system. For less severe students, partial guardianship may be obtained to protect their interests.
Planning for transition should take place, in a parent’s mind, right now. No matter the age of the child, parents are the ones who have to take the much longer view. While teachers, schools and programs come and go, the parent is the one constant in that child’s life and along with the child has to live with the consequences of decisions made today. Teachers tend to pass problems along like a proverbial hot potato up the line. As a High school teacher, I am the end of the line. There’s no place left to toss them except out the door. And out there, is a very cold and bleak world for our kids. There is no IDEA, there is no due process, and there are no procedural safe guards. No one has to take your kids once they are out. Parents, at that point, you are STUCK with whatever happened during the previous 21 years. Look for something more from me about this around graduation time.
I want to spend just a bit of time on the IHP or Individual Healthcare Plan. Unlike all of the other sections previously covered, this is NOT required by law. But consider this: suppose your son has a seizure at school. Does everyone know what to do? Will someone be trying to stick something in his mouth? Supposing your child takes medication at school and forgets to take it until 3 hours later after they are supposed to take it. Are they supposed to just skip it, or does the nurse give it anyway whenever they can? Suppose your child has asthma, are they allowed to carry their inhaler? If your child is tube fed, who is responsible for feeding her? What if she vomits it up and aspirates on the bus?
The reason for the IHP is to work all of these things out ahead of time so that school personnel know what to do when things happen. And things happen at school. I have one student who has seizures 2-3 times a week, and the parent doesn’t want to be called unless in lasts for more than 5 minutes and we administer Diastat. Another parent wants us to call her if their son has ANY seizures ever. The IHP is basically like a nursing plan with sections on actions that school personnel are to take. We try to cover all contincies possible. This document contains the history and medical issues of the student as well as contact information for parents, relatives, pediatricians, neurologists and anyone else that might need to be contacted. If I have to make a 911 call, having such information available for
EMS can be invaluable as they can note allergies and make arrangements with parents and doctors quickly. For instance, when Charlie was taken to the hospital,
EMS kept asking him to tell them how he was feeling and trying to get him to respond. Fortunately I was there to tell them that he was nonverbal and couldn’t respond no matter how lucid he was. For students with medical issues, the IHP is a vital part of the student record. Parents who I have developed these for have been very relieved to know this thing exists and is available. And it comes in handy in an emergency. Because emotions can run high during such times, it is helpful to have procedures spelled out so I don’t have to decide.
Parents could write an IHP, but they do need to be mindful of school resources and policies. If there is no nurse in the building, parents need to know that. If there is a school nurse, that person needs to be involved with the process, as he/she may have to be trained up on some of the procedures. Yes, I have had to train the school nurse on catheterization! Generally our school nurse is doing administrative stuff and isn’t too awfully stressed until she sees me jogging up the hall. Then she knows it is on. Most special educators have no idea what an IHP is, much less know how to write one. Nurse know how to write a nursing plan of care, but may need a refresher course. Most nurses don’t write one for students in the school because it is a waste of time because no one reads it. Simply adding actions for school personnel, though, makes it a marvelously more functional document.
Now, finally, we are getting towards the end of this whole mess known as the IEP. We are at least at a point where we can discuss service options and placement which I’ll cover next time around.