How to Help Smooth the Transition in Special Education

Classroom with special education students
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Transition in special education programs, in general, refers to the movement from one program to another. The "official" term, however, usually refers to the transition from school-based to adult services. This major transition occurs at age 22, when a child ages out of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and their IEP (Individualized Education Plan), and is served, instead, by adult vocational and developmental agencies.

Types of Transitions

While the biggest transition occurs at age 22, your child will go through a number of transitions—even if they stay in the same school district throughout their growing up years. Transitions can be:

  • From one grade classroom to another
  • From one school to another
  • From one program to another
  • From school to postsecondary, college, vocational program, or another program

Planning for Transitions

It is important to communicate with your child's teachers concerning upcoming transitions. Typically schools will discuss transition at IEP team meetings or annual reviews. You may, however, want to begin the conversation informally with your child's teachers and school administration so that you fully understand the available options. You may also want to visit your child's upcoming setting to ensure that it really does live up to the description provided by the district.

When discussing your learning disabled child's transition from one situation to another, it is important to understand:

  • Your child's level of performance in their current placement
  • The requirements in the new placement
  • The areas your child will likely require support to help them adjust

The team will need to identify what adaptations, modifications, specially designed instruction, or other supports will be needed for your child to succeed in their new placement.

Social and Behavioral Concerns

Of particular concern as your child ages out of early childhood education will be social and behavioral concerns. In middle and high school, these issues can emerge as major challenges—particularly for a child who is coping with a disorder such as ADHD, which has an impact on their behaviors, thought processes, and social skills.

What Can You Do as a Parent to Ease the Transition?

Before agreeing to an IEP for a new setting, you may also want to consult with other parents whose children with learning disabilities have already gone through the same transition. How well did the school prepare their child for transitions? Did the programs in the new setting fulfill their needs? What kinds of challenges came up that you should be prepared for? Are there options the school officials haven't mentioned?

The more you know about your district's ability to handle transitions, the better prepared you'll be to ask for exactly what your child needs. You may also decide to take more or less of an active role in the transition process depending on what you learn.

In some cases, it might be a good idea to ask that your child visit their new setting and "shadow" the class for a day—so that they are fully prepared for the next step in their education.

You may also want to meet with your child's new teacher and/or administrator prior to the start of the school year, to talk about challenges, strengths, and strategies that work well for your particular child.

Transitions From High School to Postsecondary Programs

Transitions can be even more frightening as a parent when your child faces the transition out of high school and into post-secondary, college, vocational, or other programs. The IDEA law requires that transition planning begin when a child is 16. This planning goes beyond far beyond the educational planning considerations with younger children and includes concerns about independent living, integrated employment, and community participation.

It may help to begin by exploring the adult services that are available. The primary agencies include vocational rehabilitation, the Social Security Administration (SSA), state-level agencies, and independent living centers. You may wish to start with learning about post-secondary education rights for people with disabilities.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Education. Transition of Students With Disabilities To Postsecondary Education: A Guide for High School Educators.

  2. Bunford N, Evans SW, Becker SP, Langberg JM. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Social Skills in Youth: A Moderated Mediation Model of Emotion Dysregulation and Depression. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2015;43(2):283-296. doi:10.1007/s10802-014-9909-2

  3. U.S. Department of Education. A Guide to the Individualized Education Program.

Additional Reading

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.