Transitioning – moving from one life stage or place to another – can be scary and stressful, but with advance planning, it can also be an exciting experience.
By high school, you likely already transitioned multiple times – for example, from preschool to elementary, elementary to middle school and middle school to high school. Maybe you also changed schools or moved to a new location. The next major transition phase – known as secondary transition – is from high school to adulthood.
As you consider life after high school, think about how you would like to engage in your community. Are you interested in getting a job, attending post-secondary school or participating in a day support program?
Transition Services and Resources for Students with Disabilities
With your goal in mind, it’s time to start planning a path to accomplish that goal. Keep in mind that some transition services for individuals with disabilities start as early as age 14, so the sooner you start planning, the better. There are many resources available to help you and your family with your journey, such as:
- High school counselors
- School district transition staff
- Vocational Rehabilitation counselors
- Virginia Department of Aging & Rehabilitative Services (DARS)
- Maryland State Department of Education Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS)
- Support coordinators for local county Community Service Boards (CSBs)
- Rehabilitation services organizations, such as Didlake
If you are interested in employment, reach out to the Virginia DARS’ Division of Rehabilitation (DARS), a state agency that helps people with disabilities prepare for, find and keep a job. Services include vocational counseling, training and job placement.
DARS offers two types of secondary transition services: vocational rehabilitation and pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS). If you live in Maryland, the Maryland State Department of Education Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) provides similar services.
Consider a Day Support Program
If you are considering a day support program, it is important to know that most are funded by the Developmental Disabilities Medicaid Waiver in Virginia, and the waitlist is typically very long – often several years or longer, based on eligibility and availability. You’ll need to connect with support coordinators from your local CSB to receive assistance with getting on the waitlist.
Topics covered through Pre-ETS include: career exploration; work-based learning experiences; workplace readiness training to develop social and independent living skills; and self-advocacy. Pre-ETS also explores postsecondary education and training opportunities, so Virginia DARS and Maryland DORS are great resources if you are interested in additional education.
Advocate for Your Needs Before Graduation
The secondary transition process provides an opportunity for you to practice making decisions, as well as to learn self-advocacy skills, including understanding your support needs and how to ask for assistance to meet your goals. Schools are required to provide services to students with disabilities.
However, after high school, young adults with disabilities and their families must show that the individual is eligible to receive employment or day support services. This means it is very important for you and your family to advocate for your needs as early as possible before transitioning out of school.
Other things to consider as you plan your secondary transition include:
- Identify your strengths and interests. What do you enjoy doing? What skills would you bring to a job or volunteer opportunity? What additional skills would you like to develop during high school to prepare you for transitioning to adult life? This will help you identify appropriate high school classes and post-secondary training plans.
- Strengthen time management, organizational skills and other independent living skills. Whether you choose a day support program or employment, these skills will help you build independence.
- Make a plan for continued services, if needed. What services do you currently use? Do you think they will continue to benefit you after high school? Do you have a plan in place to ensure those services continue?
- Consider additional supports, as needed. What assistive technology, accommodations and natural supports would help you be more independent?
Touring Didlake Day Support Programs
Didlake welcomes high school students and their families to visit its Day Support Programs, by appointment, to assess if day support might be a good fit. Didlake has five locations in Virginia: Bealeton, Roanoke, Woodbridge and two in Manassas. Each site is unique and offers programs customized to meet the needs of individual participants. For this reason, Didlake encourages students to visit multiple locations to meet the staff and participants, as well as to experience the specific setting and culture.
Tours typically occur during the last year or two of transition planning, as the student is preparing to complete high school. Didlake also collaborates with transition specialists and special education teachers to offer a customized gradual transition program for students who may need this option. Through this program, students may split their time between high school and day support during their final year of high school.
Work-Based Learning Experiences and Workplace Readiness Training at Didlake
Didlake is an approved provider of Pre-ETS for DARS in two areas: work-based learning experiences and workplace readiness training.
Didlake provides opportunities for individuals to explore work through work-based learning experiences. Participants gain an understanding of work duties, workplace rules and expectations, and identify areas to grow their work skills. All activities are held at community employers with support from a Didlake Employment Specialist. Work-based learning is customized for each individual, but may include career mentorship, informational interviews, job shadowing, paid and unpaid internships or work experience, simulated work experience, volunteering, and workplace tours and field trips.
Workplace readiness training is an eight-week program that includes classroom instruction and community-based learning, supported by both the teacher and a Didlake Employment Specialist. The curriculum includes: communication and learning styles; job seeking and resume writing; dressing for success; interview preparation; community safety and travel training; networking; social media and relationships; money management; recreational opportunities; and nutrition and meal preparation. Didlake also offers an expanded program to further develop social and independent living skills.