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Transitions are a routine part of every student’s educational experience. And though they can be exciting and something to look forward to, for many students with disabilities and their families, transitions—be they from one classroom to another, one school to another, or one system to another—are often a time of stress and anxiety. Typically, individuals with disabilities encounter multiple transitions throughout their time in school: early intervention services to preschool, preschool to elementary school, elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, and finally high school to adulthood (e.g., postsecondary education, employment). This last transitional phase is known as secondary transition.

Transitioning from high school to the adult world can be a challenging time for students, especially those with disabilities, as they enter a world of unfamiliar routines, new environments, and novel experiences. To ease these transitions and make them as smooth as possible, teachers and school personnel, along with others (e.g., families, community agencies), assist students with disabilities in the process of selecting appropriate goals and developing the requisite skills to achieve these goals in three main areas:

Work: A job they want and are good at

Living: A place they want to live

Community involvement: Activities they undertake to become a part of their community after they finish high school and throughout adulthood

Though secondary transition planning is a part of the individual education program (IEP) process, it is not intended to be a static activity that only occurs annually during a student’s IEP meeting. Ongoing transition planning helps students develop independence, which in turn helps them to reach their career and adult-living goals.

For Your Information

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) defines secondary transition as:
[A] coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that (a) is designed to be a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation; (b) is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests.

IDEA 2004, [34 CFR 300.43 (a)] [20 U.S.C. 1401(34)]