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New Ideas for Planning Transitions to the Adult World
Research Connections
Spring 2000

Promising Approaches in Planning for Transition

The Study Group, Inc., and the National Transition Network
produced two publications
detailing information on SSI:

Meeting the Needs of Youth with Disabilities: Handbook on
Supplemental Security Income Work Incentives and Transition Students

Meeting the Needs of Youth with Disabilities: Examples of Students with Disabilities (1999)

For copy availability, contact the National Transition Network,
Institute on Community
Integration at: University of Minnesota
103 U-Tech Center
1313 Fifth Street, SE Minneapolis, MN 55414

Much of Job Design's
Success had to do with collaboration across the program staff, service providers, and employers.
Collaboration takes
a lot of time— of it unbillable— it is important to believe in its ultimate value to the client.

Marion Gregor, Therapist 

As the field moves forward in implementing quality transition programs and services, new issues emerge. Following are examples of OSEP-supported researchers who are helping the field address those issues. In so doing, they are improving transition-to-adult life opportunities for students with disabilities.

Facilitating Student-Centered Transition Planning

"IDEA '97 and its 1999 Regulations greatly strengthen the involvement of students with disabilities in decisions regarding their own futures," points out Jim Martin, researcher at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. According to Martin, students can direct their own IEP process if they have sufficient preparation and support. Martin points out that the flip side also is true. "Typically, students who show up at their IEP meetings without sufficient preparation are unhappy— generally do not understand the language or the process and they feel other members have not listened to them."

With OSEP support, Martin has studied skills students need to participate actively in their IEPs. These include

  • How to choose goals. Provide experiences so students identify their interests, skills, and limits across transition areas.
  • How to participate in and lead their IEP meetings. Teach students self-determination, self-advocacy, and meeting skills.
  • How to accomplish goals. Teach students how to develop a plan to attain their goals, take action on the plan, and adjust their plan of action.

Teach Students Needed Skills

Teachers should prepare students to be active participants in the IEP process. Martin developed and field-tested a curriculum series, Choicemaker Curriculum (available from Sopris West Publishers, 800.547.6747), to assist practitioners in helping students direct their IEPs.

Wanda Hughes teaches special education at Fountain-Fort Carson High School in Colorado and has been using Martin's curriculum approach for 7 years. Hughes' students participate in their IEPs in various ways depending on their abilities and interests. For example, some students direct their own meeting, while others take a specific part to direct. But in all cases, Hughes asserts, "Students feel good about their participation— have such a sense of accomplishment... it's empowering for them."

Hughes has learned much over the years about teaching students how to direct their IEPs. Regardless of the curriculum that is used, Hughes recommends that teachers consider the following:

  • Use the curriculum on a regular basis. It is very easy to put off using the curriculum or to let other subjects take priority. You have to believe that self-determination is a priority!
  • Begin instruction as early as possible. Self-determination skills can begin in the elementary school.
  • Be prepared to support students with sensitive issues. Some students may never have seen their IEP and some may not even know what it means. Even if a student knows about IEPs, reading about one's disability can be unsettling. Some students may react by becoming upset or embarrassed. Plan to work through all issues and questions with students. It sometimes helps to talk individually with students in advance of sharing the IEP.
  • Ensure that students understand what their disability means. It is important that students know about their disability and can talk about it to others. Encourage students to become comfortable stating what they need and what they do not need.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable with the process. Students will know if you are unsure or uncomfortable talking about a topic or allowing the student to lead the IEP.
Sheila Gritz, facilitator for the State of Florida's Self-Determination Initiative, also has used Martin's curriculum approach with great success. "Before we started using the approach, we questioned whether students could actually lead their own IEPs...but since then I have seen students at all levels participate at different levels and with great success," Gritz asserted.

Gritz had the challenge of helping schools in several districts take necessary steps to move to a student-directed IEP process. Gritz and her colleagues used a state systems change grant to get started. Gritz describes the process, "Our first step was to find interested individuals who would agree to be trained in the approach. We insisted on having an administrator on the team to ensure smooth implementation." Once trained, team members assisted colleagues in their own school to make the necessary changes, as well as providing modeling and mentoring to other schools. After assisting practitioners in several counties to implement the approach, Gritz offers the following recommendations:

  • Teach the skills as a semester course. Students need sufficient time to master the skills. Although students can be taught skills once a week or in a day-long course, if you really want students to take an active role, you must allow sufficient time.
  • Use motivational techniques to interest students. Before you begin training, invite an individual with a disability to talk to students. It helps to have role-alike models as speakers (e.g., an individual who is a college graduate, an individual who has gone to a vocational education center, an individual who works in supported employment, a person who owns a business).
  • Communicate with families. Let parents know your intentions. It helps to invite families to a meeting where you can explain the approach and answer their questions.

Finding Resources for Paid Work Experiences

"Research and experience have taught us that students who are involved in meaningful vocational education and who have the opportunity to work while still in school are more likely to be employed when they transition into the adult world," points out Michael Norman, senior researcher with The Study Group. "The challenge is to find resources to fund these opportunities." The Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI), which is administered by the Social Security Administration, may be one option.

With support from OSEP, Norman has been working with colleagues at the University of Minnesota to study how SSI Work Incentives may be used to enhance employment results of transitioning youth with disabilities. SSI Work Incentives are designed to increase an individual's overall income while engaging in employment during and after secondary education. SSI Work Incentives can assist students with disabilities who qualify in

  • Engaging in paid employment.
  • Increasing their income without decreasing their SSI benefits or eligibility for other benefits such as Medicaid.
  • Offsetting expenses incurred as a result of their work.
  • Saving for further post-secondary education and training or starting their own businesses.
"The transition planning component of the IEP provides an opportunity to explore the benefits of the SSI program with students and parents beginning at age 14— younger, if appropriate," Norman explains. "For students who qualify, accessing SSI work incentives through their local social security office can be an important support for employment and can be incorporated into transition planning."

Improving Transition Results for Students with Behavioral Disorders

"Research has documented repeatedly that students with emotional disabilities perform more poorly than their disabled and nondisabled peers on nearly every transition outcome," Michael Bullis, researcher at the University of Oregon, tells us. "This population of youngsters poses unique and difficult service delivery challenges to schools and social service staffs."

For over 12 years, Bullis has been studying how to change this. His Job Designs program, which has received some funding from OSEP, is an example of a model demonstration approach. Participants in the Job Designs program have include youngsters with a variety of characteristics:

  • Eligibility for special education services for emotional disturbance.
  • Diagnosis with some type of psychiatric label (e.g., conduct disorder, unipolar or bipolar depression).
  • Past treatment for substance abuse.
  • Attempts at suicide.
  • Past record of criminal activity and arrests.
Job Designs is located on the campus of a residential mental health treatment facility. Bullis explains that there is good reason for this. "Because this population of youngsters generally has had poor relations with the school, we wanted to make it easy for them to attend. Further, we wanted to serve the youngsters in a community setting that was not tied to the schedules and rules of a high school. The community-based location afforded us the opportunity to offer intense, quality services."

Job Designs is staffed with a part-time coordinator who oversees daily operations and several transition specialists. Transition specialists are responsible for service delivery, which primarily emphasizes vocational placement and service coordination among community-based social service agencies. "The relationships these staff members maintain with the participants are crucial to the structure and success of the program," Bullis stresses. "These relationships help participants sustain interest and follow through." Job Designs maintains a low staff-to-participant ratio to enhance relationship-building.

A major underlying principle of Job Designs is "zero reject and unconditional care." Jim Smith is a vocational rehabilitation counselor affiliated with Job Designs who believes that success is enhanced when staff believe in youngsters and tailor services to their individual needs and abilities. "Rather than simply giving the youngsters a list of jobs to choose, I spend time finding out how the youngster perceives his or her strengths and goals," Smith points out. "What may seem impractical to an adult, may actually be where the youngster's motivation lies." As an example, Smith recounted a story of a young man who had not been successful in the traditional vocational programs. "He finally told me he wanted to be a model for an ad agency— a particularly practical goal," Smith said. However, Smith helped him secure a job as a model. "He followed through and kept his job. While he didn't make a lot of money, I have to ask, 'What's the alternative?'"

Overall, results of the program are promising. Consider the following findings for 79 youngsters in the program during 1992-1995:

  • While in the program, 71% of youngsters were placed in one or more competitive jobs, for a total of 79 different placements.
  • Only 18 of these placements (23%) ended with the participant being fired and 29 (37%) ended with the participant quitting.
  • On average, participants were paid between $0.25 and $0.50 above minimum wage and worked roughly 20 hours weekly.

Next: Views From the Field

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