As many of my readers know, I have been a special education teacher for twenty-six years. For several of those years I have also been an independent special education consultant. I grew up with an aunt that had intellectual disability. I have a grandson on the autism spectrum. I have dear friends who have children with a myriad number of different diagnoses. About a year and a half ago, I started thinking about going back to school. (I have either been in school as a student, or as a teacher, for 43 of my 48 years. Wow. That is a lot of school.) I wanted a graduate level degree in autism spectrum disorders. Although I am a passionate advocate for all individuals with disabilities, those with autism have a special place in my heart. Last January my new adventure began.
I have been enjoying my classes. There is something to be said for going back to school in one’s forties. I enjoyed college my first time around, and did well. (C-N Class of ’90, Go Eagles!) After receiving my bachelor of science in special education, I set out to begin teaching. Twenty-six years, with a plethora of experience later, here I am. I am back in school. My professors are probably around my age, which is kind of funny. This time around I am not intimidated by my instructors, as I was when I was in my late teens and early twenties. (Professors are not the gods of academia as once thought, but go grocery shopping and to their kids ballgames, just like the rest of us. Go figure.) I’m bringing a lot of experience to the table this go around, and have ample opportunity to show off my intellect and my razor sharp wit. (Well, okay maybe not razor sharp anymore, since I’ve mellowed with age, but definitely not dull. Just sayin’.)
In one of my classes we have been discussing transition from high school into adulthood. That transition is difficult enough for a typical high school student, but for a high school student that has a disability and has been receiving special services it can be down right overwhelming! I want to share something I wrote in one of the discussion boards about transition. We had been talking about a broader vs. more narrow perspective on this transition from high school to adulthood. I think it bears repeating.
“Before answering these prompts, I just wanted to say that I was so into this reading. I was reading silently, but would frequently interrupt myself with, “Exactly!”, “Yes!”, and “That is what I’ve been saying!”, as I scribbled notes in the page margins with a highlighter. Honestly, this subject is one that has been on my radar for quite some time now.
Kohler (1998) describes the tenets of a broad perspective of transition for a student, as one where all classes, programs, and activities while in high school are part of a plan, that focuses on a student’s goals after high school. Each student is different, and requires a plan that addresses their individual needs, interests, and preferences. In a broad perspective, students are not treated with “cookie cutter” plans—one size fits all. This way of thinking does not just accept a checklist of transition steps, that covers legal obligation. A student’s school career is ultimately about preparing him/her for the rest of their life!
In my opinion, I feel that unfortunately, many schools still do not hold the broad perspective of transition, falling back on the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. The more narrow perspective primarily focuses on the last couple of years of a student’s high school career, and setting them up with agencies/providers for their postschool life. In the reading, (bottom of page 180) I was struck with the sentence, “Many local education agencies’ tendency to meet the letter of the law rather than the intent of the law has resulted in expanded IEP forms……”. So, true! As special education teachers we have paperwork on top of paperwork! In the case of transition, there is a bog down in the process. All of education should be preparation for life. With this in mind, shouldn’t we be concerned with everything leading up to life beyond school?
I was deeply touched by the part of the paper that discussed how schools work with college bound students, preparing them, readying them, helping them for the time when they will leave high school and step out into the “real” world. Why should it not be the same for our students that receive special services? Are they not just as worthy as a college bound student? Can’t their futures be just as bright as the ones who ace their AP courses? The narrow perspective puts our students in special education, into a box. A “to do” list. Half the time, these young people aren’t even actively involved in the plans for/about THEIR lives! I have been asked to attend IEP meetings for high school students in a consultant capacity, by parents who are desperate to have the school consider a more broad perspective for their child.
I can immediately think of a case that is a prime examples for the narrow perspective of transition. This case was a young man diagnosed with intellectual disability and several medical issues. He is extremely personable, gregarious, and doesn’t know a stranger. He is a friend to one and all. He is also very daring, and athletic. (He recently tandem jumped out of an airplane, and is a member of a rock climbing club.) In my mind, for this young man, the sky is the limit! Sadly, his transition planning was about checking off the legal boxes for his plan, per IDEA. His involvement in his own life, consisted of being asked, “What do you want to do after high school?” Because of his intellectual disability, he struggled to voice his dreams of life after high school. His mother was told that they were inviting agencies/providers to his next IEP meeting to prepare him for after graduation. He told his mother he did not want to work at the workshop. That was boring. He was not interested. He even said to his mother, “Why can’t I play on a community softball league? Why do I have to only play with the Special Olympics?” The whole situation just bothers me. I want so much more for him, than the school or the local board of DD is willing to give!
On the other hand, I read a story recently about a high school special education classroom that owned and operated their own coffee shop, in the school. They worked as a team, everyone was involved! They took orders from teachers and students, and delivered coffee (and baked goods!) They were learning social skills as well as business skills. They were required to collect payment for the drinks/food, and figure out change. They kept “the books” for their business, giving some of the proceeds to school based activities and functions (the rest going back into the business). Their teachers commented that the students confidence and self-esteem had flourished. They were more open to ideas, and excited about what the future might hold. I think this opportunity was a great example of a school that has a broader perspective on transitioning through high school, and being adequately prepared for the world beyond the school. These students are learning things across the board, that will help them as they step out into their communities.”
I understand that there are some students with more severe disabilities that might not be able to work out in the community. They might be learning life skills in high school, as opposed to academics. Working at a sheltered workshop might be the best placement for some of these individuals. That is fine and good. My point is that all students are unique, with their own abilities and interests. We cannot have cookie cutter responses to our students in special education, just because “we’ve always done it this way”.
Having a tailored plan requires effort. That is the point of an individualized education plan.
- Kohler, P (1998). Implementing a transition perspective of education. In F. Rusch & J. Chadsey (Eds.), Beyong high school: Transition from school to work (pp. 179-205). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.