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Planning Beyond High School

The most important way to begin to help a young adult plan for a meaningful future is to have expectations (as you--and school staff--would have for any young adult) and to get involved. Schools, students, families and state agencies each have a role to play in planning beyond high school.

When helping your young adult prepare for the world of work, reflect back to your own early work history:

  • What were your first real work experiences and what did you learn from them?

  • How did you go about figuring out what you wanted to do for work?

  • What volunteer or other experiences helped you learn about what it is like to have a job?

  • Who helped you?

  • What connections did you make and how did you network?

  • What were the important work skills you learned as a young adult (for example, punctuality and reliability)?

Recalling your own early work experiences will help you focus on the basic skills that are essential for your young adult when entering the labor market/workplace.

Up until recently, young adults with intellectual disabilities have not had many chances to attend college, nor has it been an option that families considered. This is changing; opportunities are being created for young adults to reap the many benefits of postsecondary education. Like all people, young adults attend college for many reasons. Some want to participate in a new community and build their social skills, others want to pursue an area of interest, others want to explore career options and develop marketable skills, and others attend college for all of these reasons. Community colleges and adult education programs often provide helpful programming for young adults with intellectual disabilities, offering classes for credit or audit, and welcoming aides to attend classes alongside the young adult. Some young adults attend community college while still enrolled in high school which eases the transition to post-secondary education and employment.

Success Story: Concurrent Enrollment--The College Experience

Andrew at the piano

Andrew is 21 years old and participates in the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment (ICE) Program. Supported by his educational coach, he has taken 14 courses at a nearby community college since 2007. His class history includes: Intro to Wellness, Intro to Classical Music, Classical Piano 1, 2 & 3, Yoga, Painting, Acting, Dance, Career Exploration/ Resumé Writing and Advanced Photography/Videography. His piano professor remarks:

"Initially I was unsure about the curriculum in Classical Music, but Drew showed his abilities as a college student through his participation in class and his strong work ethic. Playing piano has strengthened many of Drew's skills...motor, verbal, communication, ability to track when reading. I have always believed that students with disabilities can overcome their challenges through their personal desire to learn and self-determination."

How does this college community connection tie into Andrew's future? Look at what he has gained:

  • Sticking to a schedule
  • Managing transportation
  • Initiating communication through email and cell phone
  • Organizing items he needs for class
  • Expanding conversation skills
  • Interacting appropriately with friends and professors
  • Knowing when to be quiet and when to speak
  • Building a working knowledge of music and camera equipment
  • Developing reciprocal friendships

In addition, Andrew is busy building his career. He has worked at a grocery store for the past three summers, and is also employed as a local photographer. One goal he has is to own his own business called "Drew's Designs," where he can sell his photos, paintings, and woodworking. With the combination of his energy, enthusiasm, and meaningful activities, his potential for success and life choices looks very promising!

Every day the Department of Developmental Services provides specialized services and supports to approximately 32,000 adults with intellectual disabilities and children with developmental disabilities across diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic groups.

It is important to remember that eligibility criteria for the Department's adult services are different from eligibility criteria for its children's services. Young adults need to re-apply to DDS during their 17th year, before turning 18, which is when the eligibility requirements change. Families can learn more about adult eligibility for DDS services, including criteria and the application process, by consulting the Department's publication "The Road Forward" (see box).

Once the school has submitted the 688 referral form, the student has been found eligible to receive DDS services as an adult and has turned age 18, the local DDS area office will assign a staff member called a Transition Coordinator to work with each young adult. (Some families may have experience working with a DDS Children's Service Coordinator who may continue to be helpful to the family.) The Transition Coordinator is your primary link to information and assistance from DDS during the transition from school to adult life.

The Transition Coordinator arranges and chairs a meeting or meetings in order to develop the Individual Transition Plan (ITP). The ITP is the document that specifies the types of supports requested for the young adult finishing high school and leaving special education. The ITP meeting is typically held one year before the young adult finishes school, and usually involves the student, family members, school personnel, and other individuals who know the student well.

The purpose of the ITP meeting is to develop a plan that addresses the interests, skills and needs of the young adult. The ITP does not contain specific goals and objectives, or identify specific provider agencies. The ITP functions as more of a "blueprint" of the student's requested support needs. Supports identified in the ITP are not guaranteed and do not create an entitlement; they are subject to prioritization and funding availability. DDS uses a standardized approach to determine an individual's need and priority for service. Funding resources are appropriated each year through the state budget process; therefore, the amount of funding available to young adults can vary.

Consider All Resources

Being creative and resourceful are essential ingredients in planning for the future. Even once eligibility for DDS services, or another state agency, is in place, funding realities can mean that all desired services/supports might not be available. It will be important to consider all resources for putting together a package of services and supports. Other sources of state help might be the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) and One-Stop Centers. Additional possibilities to consider include connections and resources in your own community, what your own family can do, and any typical and natural supports available.

Did You Know:

A recently published study from the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston shows that youth with intellectual disabilities who participated in postsecondary education were 26% more likely to exit a vocational rehabilitation program with employment and earned a 73% higher weekly income.

From "Postsecondary Education and Employment Outcomes for Youth with Intellectual Disabilities" at

Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Program

Within Massachusetts, the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment (ICE) Program for students with disabilities enables students to participate in the college experience while still in high school. The purpose of this state-funded pilot grant program is to form partnerships between public high schools and state institutions of higher education. Through ICE, students ages 18-22 with severe disabilities have the opportunity to enroll in credit or non-credit courses alongside students without disabilities. Higher education and public school partners work together to facilitate student success in navigating the academic and social life of a college campus.

Eligible students receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and are not expected to graduate with a standard diploma or pass MCAS. For dedicated students, ICE will lead to outcomes such as competitive employment, increased youth development and self-determination.

An involved special educator remarks, "The benefits of participating in this program go beyond academic learning. In addition to taking courses based on personal interest or career goals, students enjoy all of the community and social privileges accorded to the college's students, such as student activities, government, special events, fitness center, etc. They gain a higher level of independence, self-esteem, self-awareness, self-advocacy, intercommunication skills, independent living skills, social skills, and ability to navigate the transportation system."

Now in its third year, there are six partnerships across the state. Access to this program is limited as it currently serves less than 100 students statewide. Check with your young adult's school to see whether an ICE program is available and might be an option for him or her.

Get Started Early

It is important that families begin the process of applying for DDS eligibility when young adults are still in school to facilitate a seamless transition from school services to DDS services.

Take Note

The ITP, which the DDS Transition Coordinator develops, is a different plan and document from the TPF, which the school develops. It can be confusing because they have similar names.