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Talking About Transition

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The blog Disability Scoop is featuring a question-and-answer session with a New York-based transition coordinator. I was interested in her answer to this question about people with cognitive disabilities and support after high school:

....do not leave school before you must. If you have not completed the requirements for graduation, you are entitled to stay in school until the year you turn 21! For all the struggles you may face within the school system, school services are mandated by law. Adult programs require meeting eligibility requirements, which often makes services far less comprehensive and user friendly.

I recently wrote an article about transition and interviewed a mother of an 18-year-old with severe disabilities. Her state, Michigan, would allow her son to stay in school until he's 26, which is an expansion of the federal law which provides for schooling until age 21. But she found herself questioning the value of having him remain in school that long, if the district wasn't going to create a program to meet his special needs. She was worried to see him left behind while his friends and peers graduated.

I didn't have an opportunity to include this parent's anecdote in my article, but I thought that she raised a good question. Is it generally the best idea for students with cognitive disabilites to stay in school as long as possible?

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As a parent I am of two minds about this. As unreliable as the public schools have been in meeting their legal obligations, I am aware that they at least have legal obligations. I certainly wouldn't advocate just showing up until you age out (my son had one teacher who responded to my concerns about his lack of progress by pointing out that he still had lots of time left until they no longer had to serve him), I would want to see this option considered as seriously as all others. In my state, there was a court case challenging a student's continuing eligibility to receive services (and I think that the specifics had to do with a vocational program) following graduation. The court supported the student and he was able to both graduate and continue.

On the other hand--I wouldn't unilaterally assume that the school system is better suited to meeting needs than the adult system. Locally we have a very strong MRDD system, while mental health is much more sketchy. It is true that colleges and universities do not have the same obligation to provide services as the public schools--however, we have a local community college that is exemplary.

Certainly among the transition goals should be to ensure that the student is connected to and able to self-advocate within whatever system comes next for them. I think that this one is frequently a difficult one for many districts--being somewhat advocacy averse kinds of places themselves.

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