Who is responsible for helping students with disabilities connect to the supports they need after high school?

Page 3: Creating a Network of Supports

One of the most important responsibilities of the transition coordinator is to keep the student and her or his family at the center of the transition process and to support them throughout this process. It is imperative that the transition coordinator understand the student’s strengths, preferences, interests, and goals and to know what formal (e.g., agencies, college disability support offices) and informal (e.g., friends, community members) supports are available. The goal is to combine these elements to create a comprehensive network of agency and community resources to help meet the student’s needs.

It is important to establish this network while the student is still enrolled in high school. Doing so helps ensure that a strong safety net is in place when students exit school, which maximizes the possibility of positive outcomes for the students.

Network of Supports


Rich Lueking

Rich Luecking shares his thoughts on helping students succeed (time: 0:50).

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Rich Luecking, EdD
Research Professor
University of Maryland

Below, you will find information about some of the ways that transition coordinators can support students and families to create a seamless transition from school to adulthood.

Begin Early

Although IDEA requires transition plans to be in place by a student’s sixteenth birthday (fourteenth in some states), the transition coordinator might prompt the IEP team to begin planning sooner if the needs of the student so dictate. To support the planning process, the transition coordinator should:

  • Develop a timeline to help organize the planning process and help ensure things are done in a timely manner, including when to initiate contact with outside agencies.
  • Encourage IEP teams to start the process by clearly defining the future goals of the student related to post-secondary education and training, employment, and independent living. Keep in mind that these plans can change as the student ages.
  • Help develop transition goals by using appropriate transition assessments that include a person-centered approach and consider the student’s strengths, preferences, and interests.
  • Make sure that the student and his or her family are active participants in transition planning with the IEP team. The student should be involved in making choices about his or her future.
  • Provide families with a list of outside agencies, including available services, eligibility criteria, and contact information.
  • Encourage students and families to have high expectations for the future. One way to do this is to share stories or videos of individuals who have made successful transitions to adulthood.

For Your Information

Students with disabilities are entitled to a variety of supports and services. However, once an individual leaves school or requires services as an adult, she often first must meet those services’ eligibility requirements. Because these requirements vary across agencies and sometimes entail a lengthy application process and waiting periods, it is important that the transition process begin as early as possible in order to maintain continuity in services.

depiction of the lengthy application process for services

Graphic adapted from Government Accountability Office analysis of agency documentation (http://www.gao.gov/).

Develop User-Friendly Resource Directories

Resource directories identify specific services that address individual students’ and families’ needs (e.g., services for students with intellectual disabilities). They can be created using a community resource map. Click on the links below for examples of community resource maps.

Transition coordinators can invite community personnel to contribute to these directories as a way to help external organizations to become more familiar with transition planning. These directories:

  • Help students and families easily understand and connect with appropriate agencies and services
  • Should be available in accessible formats (e.g., large print, digital, home language)

Invite Agency Personnel To Meet with Students and Families

There are a variety of ways to create opportunities for students and families to interact with agency personnel in order to learn about available programs and services.

  • Schedule a resource fair during which agencies can share information about their supports or services with students and families. Be sure to include both traditional agencies such as vocational rehabilitation, as well as less-traditional agencies such as community recreational providers and transportation services.
  • Arrange a college fair that includes useful information related to the application process, funding opportunities, and admissions criteria.
  • Invite university representatives to discuss college opportunities that are specific to students with intellectual disabilities.
  • Invite representatives from disability services offices from local colleges and universities to share information about supports available to students with disabilities in college.
  • Provide opportunities for financial/legal aid experts to share information and resources relevant to students with disabilities and their families.
  • Invite agency representatives to students’ IEP transition meetings, when appropriate. This is especially important when the agency might pay for or provide a specific service (e.g., if student will be employed through a cooperative work arrangement). Solicit the input of the agency personnel when they do attend these meetings.

Did You Know?

Although school personnel should encourage family involvement in the transition planning process, they should keep in mind that students rather than parents should be assuming more responsibilities and making more decisions regarding their future. Once students reach the age of majority (usually 18–21), they and not their parents are the ones being served by adult agencies.

Develop Student Transition Portfolios

Another way transition coordinators can facilitate a seamless transition process is to help students develop individualized transition portfolios. These portfolios, either paper or electronic, often use prompts and questions to aid transition planning or provide a means to organize relevant information and documents. They can be extremely helpful while working with students with moderate to severe disabilities. More specifically, these portfolios can:

  • Summarize a student’s strengths, preferences, and interests related to her or his postsecondary goals
  • Help identify appropriate informal supports and formal services with which to link the student
  • Document a student’s progress towards meeting his or her post-secondary goals

Did You Know?

By creating a transition portfolio with a transition coordinator, students learn to self-identify their needs and preferences. This process can contribute to students gaining knowledge relevant to the development of self-determination and self-advocacy skills. Students with these skills are better able to advocate for themselves and the services they need after high school. As such, they are more likely to have better post-school outcomes.

Mary Morningstar

Listen as Mary Morningstar talks briefly about a student’s role in developing his or her transition portfolio (time: 1:17).

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Mary Morningstar, PhD
Associate Professor Special Education
Director of Transition Coalition
University of Kansas

Transition coordinators and students can organize student portfolios in different ways. One of these is to have sections for each of three major transition goals: postsecondary education and training, employment, and independent living. An example of information that might be contained in the student portfolio is an academic resume, which includes:

  • An essay to submit as part of a college application
  • A list of the accommodations the student receives at school
  • A description of the clubs and extracurricular activities the student currently participates in
  • The results from a learning assessment

For Your Information

Resource for Parents

Transition coordinators can refer parents to helpful resources that inform the transition process. The Parent Transition Survey, available from the Transition Coalition, is a tool that can help parents or family members to identify their preferences for their child’s life after high school.

Transition Portfolios

It is easy to develop online transition portfolios. The following Websites provide information about some commonly used portfolios:

Revisit the Challenge

kaylaKayla is a student with strong cognitive skills and motor skills difficulties that affect her articulation and self-help skills. She does not have a definitive plan for after high school but is considering working, taking a few post-secondary college classes, and living on her own or with a roommate. Although there are many aspects of independent living that need to be considered, Ms. Fields gives Kayla a set of guiding questions for her transition portfolio designed to help her think through some issues related to housing needs and preferences. Click here to see how Kayla completed these questions. Ms. Fields reviews Kayla’s responses, which indicate that she needs a ground floor apartment because she has difficulty with steps. She may also need an assistant to help with dressing and other kinds of routine activities. She also likes quiet surroundings and would like the option to spend time alone when she prefers. Ms. Fields uses these responses to start a conversation with Kayla about housing options that meet her needs and preferences.


cooperCooper is a student with a learning disability whose secondary transition goal is to obtain a full-time job as a cook or chef. His transition coordinator has recently learned that Cooper is open to the possibility of obtaining further training at a technical school or program; however, he admittedly struggles with reading and math. Cooper walks to his part-time job after school. He is currently living with his grandmother, who picks him up from work in the evenings and drives him to work on weekends. Cooper’s transition coordinator, Mrs. Ibarra, gives him a set of guiding questions for his transition portfolio to help him think about housing, employment/training, and transportation options for after high school. Click here to view sections of Cooper’s completed forms.

Imagine that you are Mrs. Ibarra. Review Cooper’s portfolio responses and indicate which major area (e.g., housing) you would focus on initially to help him achieve his post-secondary goals.

Although Cooper indicates that he would like to live closer to town, this is not an immediate area of need as he has indicated that for now he plans to continue living with his grandmother. The areas of employment and transportation will be most important to focus on. Cooper wants to be a chef and someday own his own restaurant. The transition coordinator will need to work with Cooper and outside agencies to identify options for Cooper after high school (e.g., will Cooper get a full time job, will Cooper attend a training program?). It is also important to find ways Cooper can get around to work or training once school is out. He has not passed the written part of his driver’s test. The transition coordinator can work with Cooper to get support to study for his test, or find alternate means of transportation (e.g., bus, shared bike program, ride service). Cooper’s transition coordinator will work with Cooper and mobility persons in the community to identify the best transportation options.

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