Monday, September 8, 2014

6 Steps for Transitioning a Child with Special Needs

From the moment we become parents, our job is to prepare our children to leave home and go out into the world.  We teach them how to get dressed, to feed themselves, to go to the bathroom (in appropriate places), and how to get along with others.  We make sure they have an education that is appropriate for them.  Some children will go to college, some will go to technical/trade schools, some will get jobs.  Some children will move out right away, some children will stay home for a while, and some children may never leave home.  

From the beginning, our plan for S has been that he will attend college, get a job, and move out some day.  Through his academic years, we have realized that college is a reasonable goal for him.  Since he became a high school student, he has heard us tell him at least once a day, “You are not going to live at home forever, so what’s your plan?”  On days that he is less inclined to get his schoolwork done, he might hear this repeated multiple times.  

How do we go about getting this particular child into college so he can get a job and move out?  
1.  Prayer, prayer, and more prayer!
2.  Education
3.  Testing
4.  College visits
5.  Finding resources to assist with these plans
6.  Creating a family plan

Philippians 4:6-7  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

In the 8th grade, we looked up different colleges and saw what they required for high school courses. Our education plan for him included making sure he had all of those courses.  There have been many times he has told us he wished he didn’t have to take ____ (fill in the blank). Not an option if you want to graduate from high school and go to college.  Some classes are optional. Science and math classes are not.

Planning for the SAT or ACT is different for us with S than it will be for J because we have to get accommodations in place, and that process is easier said than done.  We have searched the websites; we have made phone calls; we have talked to our case manager at the hospital; we have contacted the special needs coordinator through our state homeschool organization. No one can give us much help.  ACT provided the most help on the phone.  Most suggestions are contact your high school counselor.  Sure, that is us (mom and dad).  Now we know that we can’t be the first homeschool family to try to get accommodations for our child, but it sure feels like that.  As S’s 5th grade principal told me a few years back, “You might very well be the first ones asking for this.”

We found a counseling center that would do psychoeducational testing on S and provide us with recommendations for testing accommodations.  Their results weren’t anything different than we would have asked for except that they aren’t coming from mom and dad.  Because he requires so many accommodations, we decided that it was going to become a hassle that we just didn’t feel like battling.  Our energy and his energy can be better spent finishing up his high school education, making sure he is prepared for college, and making sure the college is prepared for him.

We decided, in the long run, that S will start at the local community college where he doesn’t need to take the SAT or ACT.  Will he lose out on some scholarship opportunities?  Maybe. Maybe not. It depends how well he would have done on the test.  The time we have gained by not worrying about getting accommodations or testing, we can use to find other scholarship opportunities for him.  

College visits:
Our pediatrician, who is a wonderful man, told us when S was a 9th grader that we would want to start visiting colleges a year earlier than usual because there were so many different aspects we would have to consider.  He was right.  We are looking at facility accessibility along with academics. The office we most want to visit is the office that serves students with disabilities. Each school has one, but they are not all created equal.

Because S has decided to start at the community college, we have some extra time in our timeline; however, he has visited some colleges which has been beneficial.  He will have to coordinate transferring credits when it is time.  He has currently visited two colleges in Minnesota-Concordia St. Paul and Southwest Minnesota State university.  He would love to attend college in Minnesota because it is where all of our family lives (my husband and I both grew up there).  We are okay with him looking there because he would have a huge support network there.  Of course, looking at schools that far away means he needs to have a solid plan in place for himself to transition there.  He needs to look at many areas of his life and make sure everything is in order. He has also visited VCU in Virginia. He didn't really like how busy it was around campus, but he hasn't completely ruled it out.

Available Resources:
This is where life gets tricky.  There are so many agencies and resources out there.  Some are state specific.  Some are disability specific.  Some are dependent upon showing financial need. Some are for those who are on SSI and Medicaid.  Some depend upon the level of disability.  S falls into a very gray area as he has so many times throughout his life.  Obviously, we can look at what the state of Virginia has to offer - the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) - he is now a client.  We don’t have financial need.  He’s not on SSI or Medicaid and has no desire to apply.  His level of disability is severe; however, he does not have an intellectual deficit.  Fortunately, I am great at searching for things, and his dad loves to get on the phone and make phone calls. [Since I initially wrote this post, S has also become a client of the Department of Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI).]

Creating a Family Plan:
My husband and I sat down a couple of years ago and created a plan for S and J.  We call them the Four Pillars that they need to have to be successful adults.  It lists different categories and skills that need to be achieved to go out into the world.  S’s response was, “I can’t work on all of those.  I will work on one thing at a time.”  Not how life works.  He is the king of doing one thing at a time and doing it well (could be his hyperfocus related to ADD).  In the real world, we know we are juggling more than one thing at a time to get through life.  J was more receptive to it; however, he was younger at the time so it wasn’t as real to him.  It is a little more real now that he is a sophomore.

This just all seems like a lot of work.  If I kept them home, they could wait on me while I sat on the couch with chocolate.  Not a good idea!


  1. It is a lot of work but it will pay off. You don't want them at home during your golden years disturbing your chocolate binges. Great list.

    1. Sabrina, thanks for the words of encouragement. I know it will pay off. It is the goal we have been striving to achieve for years! I look forward to reading more on your blog. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I'm still in the early days of raising a child with SB myelomeningocele. If my sons want to go on to college, they can. I'm NOT going to push them to attend. Correction the goal as a parent is NOT to prepare a baby for college, it is to get through the early days without much trouble and take each day as it comes.