One of the greatest things I’ve discovered since starting this blog is that there are so many lawyers and law students interested in practicing special education law who are thirsty for knowledge about how to get started. I had the distinct pleasure of being contacted by Attorney Matthew Stoloff last year as he was about to launch his practice. He shared with me his intent to focus in this area of the law, and in my communications with him, it became instantly clear to me that Matt would be a welcome addition to the community of Parent’s attorneys. I am honored to introduce him to you as this month’s guest blogger.
Attorney Stoloff is passionate, smart, and dedicated to the rights of children with disabilities, and I am confident that he has a very bright legal career in front of him. In particular, I love that he chose Transition Services as the focus of his guest post; it is a subject about which I feel we can’t pay enough attention.
Attorney Stoloff is a disability rights attorney in New Jersey. His legal interests include special education, disability discrimination matters, and civil rights issues. Feel free to visit his website and blog
The Day After Graduation
by Matthew Stoloff, Esq.
Life is short. At one moment, a child is learning to walk or talk. In the next moment, the child is about to graduate from high school. Because time flies so quickly, graduation occurs much sooner than parents expect.
Unfortunately, many children with disabilities, particularly those with neurological and cognitive impairments, are not ready to graduate this year because they have not mastered basic life skills. Doubly unfortunate is the fact that hundreds, if not tens of thousands, of mentally impaired children have graduated from school without having mastered basic life skills.
What are basic life skills? These are tasks that many of us take for granted: making the bed, dusting the furniture, cooking, cleaning, using the microwave, using the dishwasher, using the washer and dryer. It also means knowing personal hygiene, recognizing signs, developing time management, counting money, going to the grocery store, purchasing goods, and effectively communicating with strangers. In addition to living independently (or semi-independently), basic life skills also include knowledge of how to find and keep a job, as well as interacting with co-workers and customers or clients. Other basic life skills are provided here.
Some of you might be thinking: “Schools have no responsibility to teach children any of these things. Parents should be teaching their children this stuff.”
I agree that parents should teach their children life skills. However, schools have just as much responsibility to teach children life skills. In fact, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) not only recognizes the need to teach children with disabilities life skills, but requires it! (If you enjoy reading statutes and regulations, you can start here.)
To be an effective advocate for children with disabilities who are a few years away from entering into adulthood, every parent, school, advocate, and special education attorney should be be familiar with the law and regulations related to transition planning. Equally important to familiarity with the law and regulations is the ability to answer such as questions as:
· What can the child do now?
· What are the child’s interests?
· What should the child be able to do by the time graduation rolls around?
· What are the child’s strengths?
· What are the child’s weaknesses?
· Should we spend any time addressing the child’s weaknesses?
· How can we improve on the child’s strengths?
· How can we help the child learn to live independently or semi-independently?
· How can we help the child make decisions for him- or herself?
· How can we improve the child’s social skills?
· What jobs would be suitable for this child?
· How can we help the child find and keep a job?
No effective transition/life skills program can be developed without knowing the answers to many of these questions. However, once parents and teachers can answer these questions, they can start drafting a “Transition Planning” component into the Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”). To see specific, concrete examples of how the Transition Planning component can be drafted into the IEP, see the IEP Transition Checklist.
There is no “age requirement” to start developing a Transition Planning component in the IEP. It is really dependent upon the individual child. The law says that the Transition Planning component should be drafted when the child is no later than 16 years old. However, it would not be unusual to start the Transition Planning component at a younger age.
To learn more about Transition Planning and how to incorporate a life skills curriculum into an IEP, see Transition Planning for Students; Transition to Adulthood; and Teaching Students Who Are Low-Functioning: Who Are They and What Should We Teach? For specific, concrete lessons and ideas about developing a life skills curriculum and evaluating life skills performance, I highly recommend perusing The Lesson Plan Library hosted at the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC).
In Parenting Children with Learning Disabilities, parents are encouraged to think beyond school success: do whatever is necessary to help children with disabilities succeed in life…. All kids grow up fast, whether they have a disability or not. The time to think about life after school is now, not later.
It’s never to early to think about what happens the day after graduation.