Older Students With Special Needs Transition Into the Adult World
Alan Harchik, Ph.D., BCBA
a student with autism or other developmental disabilities reaches
his or her 22nd birthday, the public school system is no longer
responsible for providing special education and other services.
At that point, the student has "aged out" of the educational
system and will enter into the adult service system.
are two important differences between the child and adult service
systems that parents should be aware of:
special education for children is an entitlement program that provides
services based upon the child's needs. Cost cannot be used as a
reason to deny special education services for children. For adults,
services are based upon money that has been assigned by the state
legislature. Adult services are not automatically available. Multiple
factors - such as the amount of money budgeted, and the number of
students turning 22 - impact the availability of services.
less focus is placed upon instructional activities for adults. Many
children have 30 or more objectives in their Individual Education
Plan (IEP). For adults, the number might drop to less than 10. Adult
services focus upon the individual's quality of life, including
meaningful membership in the community, the development and maintenance
of personal relationships, and personal well-being
a child approaches adulthood, long-term legal and financial planning
should begin. In particular, parents need to consider whether full
or partial guardianship is appropriate for their son or daughter.
Also, each student should apply for federal benefits, such as Social
planning is vitally important to help increase the likelihood that
young adults with special needs will succeed in the adult world.
This planning must begin many years prior to the child's 22nd birthday,
and involves an understanding of the state law referred to as Chapter
688. This is a planning process that brings together the school
system, the student and family, and one of the state's adult agencies
to create an Individual Transition Plan (ITP). Typically, the Department
of Mental Retardation (DMR) is the state agency selected for most
students with autism and other developmental disabilities. Sometimes
the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) participates.
points to consider regarding Chapter 688 include:
The process of transition must be initiated by the school district
and has to occur at least two years prior to the date the student
will "age out" of the educational system. Parents who
are concerned about the timing of the referral should contact both
the school system and the local DMR area office.
Students must meet the agency's eligibility requirements before
they can receive adult services. DMR has an age 18 requirement,
so the referral should be made at or around the student's 18th birthday.
The DMR cannot begin the ITP process until adult eligibility for
DMR services is established. The ITP describes the types of support
services the individual will need after leaving school (actual implementation
depends upon funding availability).
Parents should carefully consider the advisability of the student
leaving school prior to age 22. Entitlement services end when the
student leaves school. Moreover, the last two years of in the school
system can be invaluable, providing students with increased exposure
to career development and work experiences.
DMR services that have been provided before the student turns 22,
such as family support services, will not necessarily continue after
the student turns 22. For the family to continue to receive the
DMR services, the student will need to go through the adult eligibility
process described above.
Not all students qualify for Chapter 688 activities. However, a
request for services can be made directly to any human services
agency, separate from the 688 process.
summary, transitioning to adulthood can be a stressful time for
young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities and
their families. Becoming informed and starting early are the best
ways to increase the likelihood of a successful transition. The
following resources can be helpful during the planning process:
Department of Mental Retardation)
www.fcsn.org (The Federation for
Children With Special Needs)
May Institute operates schools for children and adolescents with
autism and other developmental disabilities in Chatham, Randolph,
West Springfield, and Woburn, Mass., and in Freeport, Maine. The
Institute also provides residential and day services for adults.
For more information, call 800-778-7601, or visit www.mayinstitute.org.
Harchik can be contacted in West Springfield at 413-734-0300, or
information presented on this site is intended solely as a general
educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for
any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional
advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar
with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician
or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical
condition and before starting any new treatment.