Are you asking the question is it time to start thinking of where your child will go next year? When should I start this discussion? What do I need to do? Who do I talk to, where do I start? This can truly be a very scary, frustrating and intimidating time for parents. The most important thing you can do is take yourself out of the equation and think, “WHAT IS BEST FOR MY CHILD?”
You are the best advocate for your child. As a parent of a child with special needs, you are the one person who knows your child the best. You are the one who knows what makes your child tick, the one that knows your child’s strengths, weaknesses and even what frustrates them.
Most parents of children with special needs are unaware they have a huge part in the transition of their child for the next year as well as the next milestone in their child’s life. As a parent, you are well aware of the transition your child will make once they are leaving the high school levels or aging out of the system; but many parents are not made aware of the transition periods that take place well before your child reaches that milestone. As a parent, you are an extremely critical piece to transition when your child moves from early start to preschool, preschool to kindergarten, and elementary to middle/junior high school, and middle/junior high to high school. In fact if a child with special needs will be leaving one school for another school, a transition meeting should be called.
Even though these are uncertain times for you and your child, you can go into these meetings prepared by asking questions and voicing your concerns. Always feel comfortable with writing your questions down and having space for the answers, and asking to visit various school sites and observe various teachers and their programs. You need to feel comfortable with the transition as you are the one who will make your child feel safe and at ease with the move.
NOW is the time for you start if you haven’t already. Transition meetings should get started by early March so you have time to meet several times, visit sites, and get all the answers to your questions and more questions. Everything should be set and Transition IEPs should be held so that you can start working with your child and preparing them for the changes to take place, especially if you have students moving on to either middle/junior high school or high school as they have schedules and transition visits to do.
Every phase of transitions through your child’s life are always difficult but some more than others.
Early Start to Preschool will be the first time many parents experience transition. This can be the most difficult transition of all because parents and infants have an IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan), which is completely about the child and the family with all services coming into the home. Now they will transition into preschool where all services will happen at the school and not in the home.
Preschool to kindergarten transition is another transition for parents and their children as they now will go to school longer days if not all day depending on where you live.
Elementary to middle/junior high school transition can be one of the hardest for your child as they are not only changing schools with all their friends, but the familiarity of their surroundings have changed. Also many middle/junior high schools start class schedules.
Middle/junior high school to high school transition can be overwhelming at times as the school campuses are so large. Scheduling, classes, after school programs, clubs, and PE are all things that many students have not experienced.
This is the time you need to start looking four to five years out, two to three years out and one year out before your child leaves the district.
High school to post-secondary transition is really looking at what services are available and where your child should attend to complete the next phase of education. Do they do a fifth year at the high school or does your child’s school district offer a post-secondary education on another campus?
As a Special Education technician that works closely with parents, I see the frustration you go through with the uncertainty of “Where will my child be going next year?” As well as from the students who come through my office as young as preschool age asking, “Why can’t I stay at my school? I am so afraid.”
Please always remember YOU ARE THE BEST ADVOCATE for your child but you are not alone in venturing through life. You have so many people there to help you maneuver the rollercoaster of ups and downs. You have your child’s teacher, school nurse, school psychologists, the principal, the program specialists, the Director of Special Education in your school district, but most importantly you have your family and your child.
For more information: National PTA’s Special Education Toolkit includes a guide to getting information for transitioning families of children with special needs from preschool through graduation.
Corinne Sanfilippo worked as Special Education Technician for Santa Clara Unified School District Special Education Department and now works as Administrative Secretary to the Superintendent of Santa Clara Unified School District.