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Transition planning begins when your young adult is in middle school

When your young adult attends school, you have an invaluable opportunity to collaborate with school staff, alongside your child, to make sure all parties focus on employment goals and work preparedness; this type of teamwork leads to positive results when school ends. In this section, you'll learn about the following:

  • Staying involved with the IEP process

  • Supporting your son/daughter to take an active role in IEP meetings

  • Preparing the Vision Statement that is part of the Transition Planning Form (TPF) for students aged 14 and older

  • Building work skills into the Transition Planning Form

  • Monitoring the Chapter 688 referral

  • Encouraging employment-related activities to prepare for the transition to work

The Individualized Education Program (IEP)

The Individualized Education Program (IEP), familiar to most parents of children with disabilities, is an important planning document. Schools and families use the IEP to develop goals and objectives that support students in accessing all aspects of the curriculum, including academic and life skills. The team process of developing the IEP gives schools and families the opportunity to carefully plan for the student's needs, both present and future.

Schools are legally required to adhere to each IEP, so it is extremely important that families agree with the services listed on the IEP each year, and view it as a binding legal document. Some families choose to bring an advocate or friend to IEP meetings to serve as note-takers and add observations about the student. By age 14, students should also attend their IEP meetings, so that they can actively participate in presenting their own goals and preferences.

One important and "safe" way your young adult can take on responsibility and build leadership skills is through IEP meetings. Your young adult has the right to lead IEP meetings and should have the opportunity to talk about his or her goals for employment and adult life. Parents can help make this happen by talking with the IEP team leader, well in advance of meetings, to make sure that teachers and school staff work with your young adult to prepare for a more active role.

Here are some ideas about what your young adult could do at an IEP meeting:

  • Introduce everyone

  • State the purpose of the meeting, such as planning for the future or working toward a career goal

  • Review the progress s/he has made since the last meeting

  • Share his/her IEP Vision Statement

  • Tell the team about his/her skills, hobbies, and job-related interests

Transition Planning Form

For students age 14 and up, each school district is required to address the need for transition services in the Transition Planning Form (TPF). The TPF reflects the ongoing development of students, is maintained with the IEP, and is revisited annually. Included in the TPF is the student's post-secondary Vision Statement, which is a more focused version of the IEP Vision Statement. The TPF Vision Statement helps guide future planning and should describe the student's hopes and goals for post-secondary education/ training, employment, and adult living.

At the annual TPF review, parents and students have the right to ask for services that will build work skills and help the student explore career options. Transition services and activities to incorporate into the plan might include:

  • Career interest inventories--these paper and pencil assessments can help the student identify work interests and preferences. The results of these assessments can help to create specific employment goals.
  • Job Shadowing--the student follows an employee during a typical day on the job.
  • Mentoring--the student is matched to an adult mentor who serves as an advisor and offers guidance.
  • Apprenticeship--an adult professional teaches the student a specific trade.
  • Workplace visits and tours--the student observes different work settings.
  • Career Fairs and Career Days--local community members visit a school to share career experiences with an interested group of students.
  • Mock job interviews and job clubs with fellow students.
  • After-school and summer job placements arranged and supported by school staff.
  • Internships--paid or unpaid work experience for students.
  • Community college enrollment as a high school student--dual enrollment can ease the transition to post-secondary education and can help the student bcome part of a new community.

Success Story: From School Job to Permanent Job


Schools can help students gain work experience by placing them in afterschool or part-time jobs with community employers. At age 22, Marissa was placed in a job at a Starbucks near her school. She stocked condiments and display shelves, washed counters and swept the floor. The staff at Starbucks came to know, like and consider Marissa an important part of their team. When she was preparing to end her placement because she was leaving school, the manager referred her to other local Starbucks managers. This led to a permanent, competitively paid job with benefits at a Starbucks nearby Marissa's home.

At 22, students "age out" of the entitlement of special education services provided by the public school system, and they need to apply for adult services. In Massachusetts, there is a Turning 22 law for students who will require significant supports in adult life, often referred to as Chapter 688. The law mandates that schools must complete the Chapter 688 Referral Form two years before the student exits school or turns 22 years of age, whichever is earlier. However, in order to facilitate the planning process, DDS prefers that schools make the 688 referral at age 17-18 to coincide with the DDS adult eligibility requirements.

The Chapter 688 Referral is a simple one-page document that identifies services the student will need after leaving special education. It must be signed by the parent, legal guardian or student who is 18 years of age or older. The signed form gives the school permission to send records to appropriate adult disability serving agencies, such as the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), Department of Mental Health (DMH), and Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). With sufficient lead-time these agencies are better able to effectively plan employment services and supports for young adults who are eligible for them.

It is important to note that the Chapter 688 referral must come from the school. Parents should work with the school to make sure that the referral is discussed at the IEP meeting, and the paperwork is submitted on time.

Preparation for work and collaboration with school and state agencies improves the likelihood that students will move into employment and careers after high school; students with even the most difficult challenges have demonstrated that they can be successful moving from school to work or to more education. Furthermore, young adults with disabilities who pursue further education and/or job training end up exercising more control over job choice rather than simply "taking any job." For these reasons, it is critical that schools help young adults get ready for employment by setting expectations and providing career preparation and work experiences.

What young adults can do

With support, there are a number of ways your young adult can take an active role in identifying career goals and preparing for the world of work while in school:

  • Talk to teachers, other adults and older siblings about work and getting involved in the community

  • Participate in a range of career exploration and job seeking activities, with the guidance of school staff

  • Choose high school courses that match work goals

  • Learn employment-related skills

  • Report what s/he liked or disliked about every work experience

  • Explore and build on interests and hobbies through activities at school, at home, and in the community

  • Practice "taking charge," such as gathering information and making appointments

  • Practice describing his/her abilities, disabilities and the services s/he is entitled to

  • Take on increasing age-appropriate responsibility and build independent living skills

Vision Statement Tip

One way to approach creating the Vision Statement in the Transition Planning Form (TPF) is for parents and students to draft independent vision statements for the student. A teacher or guidance counselor could be enlisted to help the student with this exercise. These two Vision Statements, along with comments and contributions of others at the meeting, can form the basis of a discussion on post-secondary goals and the steps necessary to achieve them.

Chapter 688 Referral tip

Sometimes schools are unsure of eligibility requirements at state agencies. When in doubt, tell the school to fill out the Chapter 688 referral and send it to the adult service agency the school thinks is most appropriate. The adult service agencies will take over from there. From time to time there may be changes in the referral procedure; check with your school for updates.