On Memorial Day weekend, my brother David would have graduated from high school. Unfortunately he never even saw the first day of his senior year because he chose to end his life. When I think about how his graduation would have been I am saddened that I will never get to see him make that milestone. Yet, I wonder how prepared he would have been to leave high school and that saddens me as well. We had been trying to implement a Transition Plan into his IEP which was being finalized when he took his life and I cannot help but think about how much he need that Transition Plan sooner.
A story you may identify with
I was shocked when my brother told me in January of his Junior year that his school had told him he could graduate early (in December of his Senior year). That can’t be right. How could that be? He had failed several classes and all I heard for the last several years was how much he struggled in school. How could it be that a school would graduate him early? He was fine with it since all he wanted was to “get out of school”… and why shouldn’t he, when the learning, the support, and the expectation of him being able to succeed had long since ceased. It seemed that the biggest thing he had learned was that school wasn’t for him and he was vocal about it all the time. With a GPA just over 2.0, he would graduate early, accomplishing what David and the system both wanted- to get him out.
At many times throughout David’s life he had stated that he did not need college or schooling after high school because he was smart enough to make a living. He had no idea what he wanted to do but assumed his brains were enough. Yes, the kid was brilliant even though he struggled tremendously from preschool through high school… Without going into great detail about those struggles, it is evident that the education system significantly overlooked his struggles because 1) his high verbal ability, 2) his apparent intelligence (despite the disparity with his school performance), and 3) as he got older the outward behaviors, the tantrums, the fits, the frustration seemed to dissipate (unfortunately translating to inward symptoms of anxiety, depression, helplessness, despair, and shame). When these 3 aspects are combined and a kid is not performing up to their apparent intelligence the usual conclusion is made, “he’s just lazy”. And let’s face it, teachers, and often parents, get frustrated with Lazy, leading into a cycle of frustration where the adult determines “I’m not going to make an effort if he won’t” and the adolescent accepts “no one will help me anyway, I give up” (or the very popular “I don’t care”). As a result of David’s struggles being overlooked and pushed aside, David’s rate of learning, social and emotional growth, and development was stifled. The cycle of Frustration led to the hopes that David would simply get out of school… But then, what?
David had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, and more importantly suffered from a lack of understanding about what it takes to make a living and how that is connected to money, a career, and yes, often the need for a higher education (especially in today’s job market). He had talked about flight school, an idea planted by his mother and one he was certain he could do with little schooling. In November of his Junior year he had said it would take him 2 years to be a pilot. (Anyone know what it actually takes to make a living off of being a pilot? I don’t really but I am guessing he wouldn’t be a top paid pilot after 2 years of flight school like he thought). By June, flight school seemed to become a fleeting and forgotten interest, superseded by his infatuation with his girlfriend and likely the reality that flight school required math (a subject of which he had little success). He stopped talking about flight school and was convinced he’d move out and live with his girlfriend (who still had 2 years in high school), but the reality of what it takes to support this was daunting. The signs of how unprepared (both socially and self-sufficiently) he was just kept adding up. David had little understanding of money- tracking it, saving it, or earning it. Around that time, my father had realized that David had emptied his checking account and spent it mainly on taking his girlfriend shopping or out to eat. In the summer, he started his first job, a manual labor position (although he was clumsy and hated exerting energy) because it was the only job he could get. And when he got his first paycheck he went into a tailspin of anxiety upon the realization of how much was deducted for taxes, a reality that significantly added to his anxiety and helplessness that were growing so strong in the last months of his life. David was connecting the dots and surely recognizing that money was not going to just come his way without a good job and a good job was not falling into his lap without an education. He had little understanding of what it took to get, sustain, and manage a career or livelihood and was faced with the sad truth that he was not prepared.
I can imagine what you are thinking, “yea, but no kid in high school really is prepared” and I agree. I know I wasn’t and I am sad at how little our education system does to teach us the reality of living… But what stands out to me for David and for the many children I work with, is how they quickly learn to not try, to not seek help, and to “not care” when they don’t feel like anyone will help them when things are tough. Instead of supporting David, the school labeled him lazy; instead of helping him prepare they tried to get him out early. The school is not only responsible for helping our children develop tools for life, but also for identifying (See Child Find ) children that need extra support to develop these tools.
I know a child or adolescent that comes to mind when I hear David’s story, what can be done?
The individualized education plan (IEP) (more info on IEP ) is- in it’s ideal form- designed to give our kids, through the age of 22 if necessary, the support and assistance they need to succeed in life (not just academics!). It is designed to give the kids the same opportunity that other children are afforded. Even more importantly it imbeds an understanding that these children may need extra support to come up with a post-high school plan, known as The Transition Plan.
What is the Transition Plan?
Here is some clear, concise information I found on Transitioning Planning click here
I recommend starting transition planning some time between age 14 and 16 (and this is something that you can and often must request). The most important thing to remember is that the Transition Plan is there to help the teenager prepare for what will happen post high school and this encompasses many possibilities from career planning, to social skills, to community interactions, to counseling. It is not designed to give parents or educators a way to impose their ideas on the adolescent, but rather to assist the adolescent in developing some skills that will benefit their continued growth post high school. Often this means that the adolescent will (and should) take part and have a say in the transition plan and what fits for him/her.
Transition Plan Goal Examples
Here is one of the goals I had proposed for David’s Transition Plan to address his areas of need. Following the goal I had listed the exact steps for completion. I have also included the additional areas of need that I had recommended for transition planning. All kids will have different needs but I list these as an example of what can be done and the areas that often should be targeted in Transition Planning.
- Target: Transition Planning- Career Planning
Goal: By April 2011, David will have researched and compiled 3 possible careers of interest and discover what it takes to enter the career (schooling, hours of practice, license/credential/etc., %of hiring potential- especially when starting), what the career entails (what do they do, responsibilities or possible jobs within a career, projected salary-especially when starting), & what the requirements are to maintain the career (CEUs, etc.), as noted by staff notes.
Benchmark1: By June 2010, David will have researched 1 possible career of interest and discover what it takes to enter the career (schooling, hours of practice, license/credential/etc., %of hiring potential- especially when starting), what the career entails (what do they do, responsibilities or possible jobs within a career, projected salary-especially when starting), & what the requirements are to maintain the career (CEUs, etc.).
Benchmark2: By December 2010, David will have researched 2 possible careers of interest and discover what it takes to enter the career (schooling, hours of practice, license/credential/etc., %of hiring potential- especially when starting), what the career entails (what do they do, responsibilities or possible jobs within a career, projected salary-especially when starting), & what the requirements are to maintain the career (CEUs, etc.).
Does not require writing. I had made this note because David had an accommodation that allowed him to use an audio recording device and voice output software or to verbally explain answers to a transcriber (a student or teacher who would write for him).
I had even described exactly how I would do it.
Step 1: Discuss possible areas of interest with resource and get suggestions from resource. David picks 3 careers of choice and determines what order he will look them up. David will get help figuring out (and planning what order he will find the parts of the information for each career at a time) how to search for this information (online, magazine, books, etc)
Step 2: David and resource determine what is an appropriate amount of time to spend reading the material found and how he will keep track of what he learns (voice record in digital audio recorder & feed through software, bullet points on computer, dictate to other writer, or report back to resource each day/week so resource can track what he learns).
Step 3: David independently does the search in specified periods of time (time limit to ensure success- need baseline to see what his limit is for attending to this task) targeting specified area (as previously determined) and brings materials he has found to resource where they discuss and plan next steps.
- Additional transition planning goals to target David’s needs
- Life-skills: Learning organization via his computer (like organizing and maintaining a calendar with homework, tasks, social events, and important dates; syncing to phone)
- Life-Skills: Planning out what you need to complete a task/independent living skills (i.e. planning out the steps to find a job; planning out the steps to wash clothing; planning out a trip to wal-mart including list, money, etc when needing to buy toiletries)
- Problem solving/self advocacy (i.e. what to do if his phone dies with all of his homework info; what to do when an accommodation is not provided; what to do when a friend puts him in a tricky situation)
Transition Planning is necessary for children that are struggling with post high school preparations and needs to be attended to with ample time. In order to have a successful Transition Plan there needs to be a person that is overseeing the implementation and progress of the goals. Even more importantly, the transition goals need to keep the adolescent’s interests, abilities, and needs into account. They should start with a high level of support and always target the most independence possible. The adolescent needs to commit to his/her part to make a Transition Plan successful. Keep in mind that typically an IEP is established before a Transition Plan is in place. The adolescent will have to qualify for the IEP with an eligible diagnosis. If your adolescent is in need, do not accept that he/she is “not eligible” and seek help from attorneys, other parents, or outside professionals that can advise you on how to advocate for your child.
Read Previous TidBits:
Insider Knowledges- Words of wisdom by parents of children diagnosed with ASD. (#1) (#2)
Why can’t I just be the way I am?
The Importance of Ruling out Seizures
The power of a transitional warning
When your child is starting a new school or class
[This information is intended to inform others of some of the ways of working I have found to be helpful. If you wish to use any portion of this information please gain permission from Courtney Olinger, PsyD at firstname.lastname@example.org and use appropriate citations and references]