Welcome to Adulthood!
Updated: Jan 3
Exceptional Advice on Preparing for Life After High School
By Meshell Baylor, MHS
"The transition into adulthood is so exciting and so remarkable to witness as a parent."
You have finally reached the plateau with your exceptional needs young adult. There you are, sitting across from your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, preparing for that last meeting as you help usher your teen into adulthood. For many parents, you never imagine this day approaching so quickly. You remember the first day of kindergarten, transitioning from elementary to middle school, from middle to high school, and now we are bidding farewell to childhood and hello to adulthood. For many parents with special needs children, this is another transition in life for which we must breathe and prepare. A smooth transition can help prepare your special needs adult to become an independent individual.
Recently my son Justin's journey from high school to adulthood occurred in the month of June. We held our transition meeting with his team. As parents, we know that our young adults play an essential role in their educational/vocational future. Justin had the opportunity to inform everyone about his interests and what he would like to do in life. He loves traveling to new places and going into the community, along with performing karaoke and helping others who are special needs. During the pandemic, Justin and I had the opportunity to see which programs interested him. I try to be the kind of parent who encourages her children to say if a particular program feels like home to them. After visiting programs, centers, and Zoom meetings during the pandemic, we finally found the program that made Justin feel happy. At the last IEP meeting, we asked them to join us on Zoom for them to gain a better understanding of their newest member of the program. Many exceptional young adults want to attend college or enter the workforce. As their parent, it is your mission to help guide them into the right path that they desire. If your child has an IEP, it is your goal to collaborate with your child, your school district, regional center, department of rehab, and various organizations to guarantee that all resources are provided for the next chapter. Here are some helpful tools for preparing for your exit IEP transition meeting.
My exceptional voice matters From 14-18 years of age, your teen's IEP should be formatted to what they want to do academically, vocationally, and independently. At this point, your team should know what your child wants to do, from painting to working in a restaurant, creating a business, or even going to college. Your exceptional youth's voice is the most critical voice of the team you and the school should be working on seeking out what resources they want to pursue. Create a transition checklist to narrow down what services are offered to your young adult and allow them to see what is available to them and what makes them feel special and productive.
Seek help from service coordinators The Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDS) oversees all services for individuals with disabilities. For example, there are over 21 regional centers with more than 40 offices throughout California. DDS provides various services for individuals preparing for life after high school. They will assist you in connecting your exceptional youth to a work program, adult day programs, resources for transportation, etc. Schedule a meeting with your service coordinator and if you do not have one, contact your local DDS or call 211 or reach out to information to speak with someone regarding assistance.
Connect with the Department of Rehabilitation It is time to connect with an organization that advocates for ensuring our special needs adults have the same equal opportunities to enter the workforce. The California Department of Rehabilitation is a California state department that administers vocational rehabilitation services. It provides vocational rehabilitation services and advocacy from over 100 locations throughout California, seeking employment, independence, and equality for individuals with disabilities. Invite them to the transition IEP meeting and remember that everyone is a part of the team and there to provide help.
Form a conservatorship As your expectational loved one is at the plateau of making all these major life-changing decisions, it's time to evaluate if they will remain at home with you or live an independent life and make their own financial, medical, and residential decisions. Under U.S. law, a conservatorship is the appointment of a guardian or a protector by a judge to manage another person's financial affairs and/or daily life due to old age or physical or mental limitations. A person under conservatorship is a "conservatee," a term that can refer to an adult. Justin informed me that some things he needed me to help him with, and with the permission of Justin and the court system, he lives with me. This is a huge decision, so please do not take it lightly. Be a supportive team member in your loved one's life.
Network with organizations Do not be afraid to reach out to organizations and network with them. There are so many available services for your exceptional loved one. Invite all the organizations and agencies above to attend your loved one's IEP meeting. These individuals serve as an essential tool for your exceptional youth's next transition in life.
It is such a surreal experience seeing your young adult walk across the stage, grab their high school certificate, turn their tassel and throw their cap into the air. You sit in the audience with your cell phone recording your child, and suddenly, you have a flashback of them as a kindergartner and dropping them off at school. You try to fight back those tears, but you are overcome with joy because it has been such an incredible journey witnessing this exceptional person prepare for the real world. But, remember this is only the beginning of a new chapter that you have a front-row seat to witness, so enjoy!
Meshell Baylor, MHS, is a mother of four children—two of whom are on the spectrum. She serves her community as a social worker and community advocate within the Los Angeles area. She has a bachelor's degree in Human Services from Springfield College and a Master of Science in Human and Social Services. Meshell continues to volunteer and give within her community while serving the special needs community.