Transition Planning

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

As special education students reach high school, it becomes time to think about the afterlife—that is, life after high school.

boy writing 2The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that within the IEP in place when the student turns 16, there must include transition service needs. However, it’s never too early to start the process. Factors to be considered are:

Will there be:

  • Continued academic preparation?
  • Development of a viable community experience?
  • Development of vocational and independent living objectives?
  • A functional vocational evaluation (if applicable)?

Guidance is necessary to move from high school to the next stages in life. Steps must be documented and taken to guide and prepare students for college and a career or for independent living. Without goals, students may fall off the radar and flounder. Consider these sobering statistics:

kids testingOne way to begin is to teach students to advocate for themselves as early as possible.

  • Begin by talking with students about what they do well and the extent of their disability. Many students have never been required to articulate the nature of their disability. Likewise, they can’t always talk about skills they have learned and mastered to date.
  • Students may need to practice the words they need to verbalize what they can and cannot do.
  • Evaluate whether students can succeed in a post-secondary academic setting. Not all students are college material, but students need to be able to engage in discussions about college or community college.
  • Plan a visit to your local community college. This resource is uniquely qualified to provide the kind of guidance your students will need to get the conversation started.

Starting at age 14 and continuing until the student is no longer eligible for special education services, the IEP team should:

  • Help the student work through his or her own IEP
  • Take into account the student’s preferences and interests
  • Include developing the student’s post-school goals

See more at:

For students who are interested in embarking on a career right out of high school, administering an interest inventory might be a way to start. Finding the right job is not easy, even for highly skilled individuals. It’s even more difficult for those who lack adequate training or face special challenges.

For more great ideas on how to start preparing students for effective transition planning:

Grant Name: Technical Assistance and Dissemination to Improve Services and Results for Children With Disabilities

Funded By: Department of Education

Description: The purpose of this priority is to fund three cooperative agreements to establish and operate model demonstration projects that are designed to improve the literacy of adolescents with disabilities in middle and high school grades. For purposes of this priority, the target population includes: Students with disabilities in grades 6 through 12 who score below grade level in reading, or who have identified reading goals and objectives on their individualized education program.

Program Areas: Disabilities, Reading, Special Education

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 5/4/2015

Annual Total Amount: $1,200,000.00

Average Amount: $400,000.00

Address: Education Publications Center (ED Pubs), U.S. Department of Education, PO Box 22207, Alexandria, VA 22304

Telephone: 202-245– 6425


Website: Department of Education

Availability: All States

Aging Out

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

It’s the beginning of a new school year, but I’m going to touch on a subject that pertains to the long-range future of our disabled students. End-of-school career planning is something that needs to be addressed well in advance.

hands filing

In every student’s life, the expectation is a graduation ceremony of some kind. In my house, it was a given that we would go to college; thus, we’ve had several graduations in our lifetime. It was a lesson for me when I learned that some families are gratified when their child graduates from the eighth grade. There are parties and celebrations and joy from parents who never expected to see this milestone. They may have lived in poverty or just been part of a family that has never experienced the eighth grade, for whatever reason. They may have come to us from another country where education is not as readily available as it is here.

For children with disabilities, the calendar is different. The law says the school must provide services for children with disabilities through their 21st year. In most states there are transition plan requirements that help parents and students work through a more complex set of decisions as graduation comes near. Many disabled students cannot hope to pass state academic achievement tests. In the beginning of education reform, this was a serious issue as states clung to the graduation requirements for these high stakes tests. As the years have passed, states have developed safety nets and procedures for providing a path to college for many disabled students.

I have been impressed by the way community colleges have stepped up. They are ideally positioned in local areas to provide tutoring and transition classes for students who will not be able to walk across their high school graduation stage. This is working well not only for disabled students, but also for students whose first language is not English.

pile of folders

If you are a parent reading this, and you are wondering how you are going to support your disabled child through the graduation process, be aware there are many services available for you. Locally, your child’s guidance counselor can help with a transition plan. She will know what the law says and be aware of the tests and timetables for graduation for disabled students. If you are early in the process (your child is in the eighth grade or so), you should be working with your school’s special education committee to create IEPs that have an eye for the future.

boy writing 2

I’ve collected some resources for transition planning services.

Transition planning checklist

Wright’s Law – a great resource for understanding the law regarding special education

New York State’s transition planning infrastructure – good resource

PACER – champions for children with disabilities

Toolkit – for preparing a personal assistance plan after graduation

Vocational Rehab facilities (New York State – your state has one too)

Going to College – for students with disabilities

Heath Center – national clearinghouse for services to students with disabilities

Use Google or another search engine to find resources specific to your state, search strings might look like this;

“Services for students with disabilities in xyz (fill in your state) state”

Keep your expectations high for all your students, there are services and programs out there to help all students thrive in our society, you just have to know where to look. The Internet has been an enormous positive factor in helping families cope with the challenges of transitioning out of school. Use the services available.

Let me know how your school or state handles the transition planning process for your disabled students.

Grant Name: Educational Grants

Funded By: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis to advance the moral, mental, and physical well-being of children of all races and creeds; to aid and assist in providing for the basic needs of food, shelter, and education of such children by whatever means and methods necessary or advisable; to prevent by medical research or otherwise the mental and physical handicaps of children.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Special Education

Eligibility: Private School, Faith Based, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing 

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00 – $560,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $15,000.00

Address: 1036 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620

Telephone: 585-473-6006


Website: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Availability: All States


The Five Most Common Reasons for SPED Referral

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

hands filing

Over the years, the labels we use to describe special education students have changed. When I was in Special Education 101 (I’m really dating myself), we used to call developmentally disabled children retarded. Even worse, we split the kids into Mild, Moderate, and Severe categories. This was happening at the same time as “mainstreaming”. We understood that the least restrictive environment for all children was the way to go, but we muddied the issue by splitting kids into groups.

To some extent, we still do that. It’s important to be able find language to describe our children. We can’t provide special assistance if we can’t inform people about why it’s needed.

We’ve found there are five types of learning problems that students have that cause us to take a second look and refer them for special education assessment.

  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Autism
  • Disorders of Hearing, Sight and Physical Disability
  • Emotional Disturbance

I am guessing at the order, there are probably numbers to tell us which of these is the most common, but I don’t have them handy. It really doesn’t matter; these areas of concern have created a bureaucracy of support for special education that is costly and complex. The bureaucracy has developed because of Public Law 94-142, the legislation mandating the least restrictive environment for educational services.

Today, most disabled students can be helped in resource rooms, or classrooms that pull students out for a period during the day for special education. There are however, substantially separate classrooms for students with severe problems. These are the students who have a one on one aide that help them with toileting, physical therapy, and other services we must provide by law.

School Committees all over the country bemoan the cost of these provisions, but at the end of the day, it’s an investment in our future. All students need the best we can give, regardless of cost.

Another part of the law is the requirement that parents be part of the team that outlines the type and duration of any services their children will receive. Schools may have different names for the teams, but it’s usually called the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team. When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 2004, there were changes regarding IEP team members. Parents must be included, but there are others invited to team meetings including the classroom teacher, district administrators and others who are charged with providing services. Meetings occur two times each year, and amendments are made to treatment plans (individual education plans). For instance, parents can request that their children have special equipment. A tool called “Kurzweill” is commonly requested. This software reads aloud for the student and assists struggling readers. Students may also have readers during testing.

I’ve talked a lot about behaviors in classrooms and the costs we incur in our efforts to help at risk students. We can’t forget about the students with the most serious disabilities. Even though we may have substantially separate classrooms for some, this does not mean marginalization. In modern schools, every attempt is made to pull these children into everyday activities in the community at large.

Do you have questions for me? My readers answer more questions than they pose, but I welcome your involvement in this blog.

Grant Name: Serves Grants

Funded By: United States Tennis Association (USTA)

Description: Awarded to nonprofit organizations that support efforts in tennis and education to help disadvantaged, at-risk youth and people with disabilities. To qualify for a USTA Serves Grant, your organization must: Provide tennis programs for underserved youth, ages 5-18, with an educational* component OR Provide tennis programs for people with disabilities (all ages) with a life skills component for Adaptive Tennis programs.

Program Areas: Public School, Private School, Other

Eligibility: Disabilities, Health/PE

Proposal Deadline: 10/18/2014

Address: 70 West Red Oak Lane White Plains, NY 10604

Telephone: 914-696-7175


Website: United States Tennis Association

Availability: All States

Don Peek – Summer — What Are Your Plans?

This post is authored by Don Peek, a former educator and past president of the training division of Renaissance Learning. He now runs The School Funding Center, a company that provides grant information and grant-writing services to schools. To learn more, or to subscribe to the School Funding Center Grant Database, go to schoolfundingcenter.

Summer — What Are Your Plans?

I’ve never been a proponent of year-around school.  Yes, I grew up on a farm, but even in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s we didn’t stay home from school to harvest crops.  Yet, even today we run most American schools on an agrarian calendar.  It’s great for teachers and administrators to have a break.  It’s not even too bad for above-average students.  It is near catastrophic for many at-risk and disabled students.

Where above average students might grow from 1.2 to 1.4 years in math and reading in a 9-month school year and lose only .2 to .3 years of growth over the summer, weaker students during a good year grow as much as .7 or .8 of a year in math and reading, but lose up to .3 to .4 of that growth in the summer.  That’s the reason year-around school and summer school is a good thing for weaker students.

Unfortunately, not many schools provide these programs throughout the summer for those students who need it.  If these students hope to stay even or to catch up some during the summer, either parents or some really good teachers need to lay out plans for at-risk and learning disabled students for the summer break. 

Fortunately, some excellent on-line curricula are available over the Internet.  The best of these even combine fun and games with the lessons to keep students interested and moving forward.  I’ve often wondered how much better off our students would be today if every video game required players to learn one or more vocabulary words between each level of play.  What a small price to pay to slay more dragons, visit more enchanted lands, or to save the princess.

In addition, these students need to visit the school or public library at least once each week.  Parents need to help children pick books that highly interest them but are on an appropriate level for maximum growth.  To be able to do that, teachers should make student reading levels very clear to parents and even provide book lists including only books in an appropriate range for each student for summer reading.  Parents should choose additional books to read to their children.

Unfortunately, many parents of at-risk and learning disabled students cannot or will not provide these types of activities for their children.  Unless a school, community, or church program picks up the slack, we are essentially saying that we will accept these summer losses, and we are powerless to do anything about it.  If that is the case in your school and community, I’d say it’s a sad comment on the state of our society.

Be that as it may, the important thing is for you make yourself aware of what is available on the Internet, at the various libraries, and at the school and within the community and make sure that your at-risk and learning disabled students take full advantage of these opportunities.  Not only will it keep them from having a typical boring summer, it will also help to keep them from losing up to half of the gains they made throughout the regular school year.

These students struggle enough without us building a calendar that penalizes them each year.  While it looked for a while that schools might gravitate toward year-around calendars, that concept seems to have lost most of its traction.  Since most schools will not lose the summer vacation, it is vital that we provide at-risk and learning disabled students with structured programs during the summer so they don’t fall further behind other students.

Grant Info:

Grant Name:  Bikes Belong Grant Program

Funded by:  Bikes Belong Coalition

Description:  The Bikes Belong Grant Program strives to put more people on bicycles more often by funding important and influential projects that leverage federal funding and build momentum for bicycling in communities across the U.S. These projects include bike paths and rail trails, as well as mountain bike trails, bike parks, BMX facilities, and large-scale bicycle advocacy initiatives.

Program Areas:  Health/PE  (while this program is not specifically for students with disabilities, I believe it is very inclusive and can be very beneficial for disabled students)

Recipients:  Public School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline:  6/29/2012

Average Amount:  $10,000.00

Telephone:  303-449-4893

Availability:  All States

John Funk – Logic and Reasoning

This post is authored by John Funk, the Educational Programs Manager for Excelligence Learning Corporation and a clinical instructor at the University of Utah.

How and Why Do We Teach Logic and Reasoning to Young Children?

            When my oldest son was about 15, we were having a ‘discussion’ about something he wanted to do for which I had refused permission.  As things were becoming just a little bit too emotional, I remember saying to him, “I’ve never been the parent of a 15-year-old before.  I’m trying to do what I think is right, but there are no directions for how to do this.   I’m sorry you have to be the test case.”   My son stopped and stared at me — and then said, “I never thought about that.  Now I understand why you screw up sometimes.” 

While that was not the answer I wanted to hear, my comment and his response brought some logic and reasoning into the discussion, and the emotions disappeared.  That is usually what logic and reasoning can do for a situation.  When you are having an emotional disagreement with someone, not much gets accomplished while emotions are in the way.  When everyone has calmed down, logic and reasoning usually reappear, and a thoughtful discussion can occur.  I feel very strongly that if we don’t help children to develop these critical skills, they will not be able to function successfully and truly get along with other people.

            The basis of logic and reasoning is the ability to search for clues, determine what makes sense, and make decisions based on concrete information.  Forcing children to know the correct answer and be prepared to regurgitate it on a test does not develop the thinking that creates logic and reasoning.  However, allowing children to explore with materials to make decisions about the timing and organization of a project, and, most important, to make mistakes will create the resilience that children need to be logical thinkers. 

The Excelligence Product Development Team knows I like open-ended products that promote divergent thinking.  Divergent thinking is when we take one idea and go many different directions with it.  From one concept or product, we can get many different outcomes or possibilities.  Think about our Biocolor or Liquid Watercolor. With one of these products, a child can create a myriad of projects.  The possibilities are endless.  Some of my favorite teaching products are blocks, dough, crayons and paints.  I like them because they provide endless opportunities to promote learning, and they promote divergent thinking.

I also like products that promote convergent thinking.  Convergent thinking is using many different ideas or data points to lead to one necessary conclusion.  Think of all the products we have to help children learn the alphabet.  Identifying the letters is the ultimate goal, but there are many different pathways that can lead to that knowledge.  As we provide more products for supporting curriculum standards, it is important that our products allow the child and teacher to explore different avenues to help the child learn each standard skill.

My son, who is now 35, said to me the other day when we were discussing his 10 year-old daughter, “It is really hard being a parent.  Sometimes you just don’t know what to do.”   That comment brought us full-circle and reaffirmed to me that justice is alive and well in our lives, and I suggested that he discuss it with his daughter.  Hopefully, logic and reasoning will find its way into every generation of parenting.

Don Peek – Are You Protecting your Students

Special Needs Topics with Don Peek

Are You Protecting Your Students?

It seems that bullying is standard practice for some of our students these days.  The spectrum runs from just being obnoxiously rude to physical assault.  Unfortunately, special education students are far too often the targets of this abuse.  Do you have procedures or a program in place to protect your students?

It is fine to provide students with the very best academic program possible, but if schools fail to teach their students to get along with one another, stand up for the weak, and promote fairness and equality, have we really done our jobs as educators?   

Not as many parents are doing a good job in this area.  Not as many students attend church and follow religious principals which might prevent this type of abuse.  It is one more job that has fallen on the shoulders of teachers, administrators, and counselors.  That may not be fair, but it is the reality of the situation.   

Unfortunately for disabled students, bullies actively seek out those who are different in any way and especially those who are least able to defend themselves.  A first step in any school is to make it known to the entire population that bullying will not be tolerated.  However, if you only use negative consequences to fight bullies, you may not be as effective as you think.  In fact, it could work against you.  Some bullies will get a rush from the attention and the risk of being caught and punished. 

Don’t misunderstand me.  I believe we should monitor those who tend to bully others, catch them in the act as often as possible, and punish them for their cowardly acts.  Were they adults, many of them would end up in jail on assault charges.

I just believe that you also need a positive program to teach students tolerance and the joy of giving.  When regular students bond with special education students, it produces positive results for both groups.  Special education students get included in many activities they might otherwise miss, and regular education students learn how to take responsibility for others.  They get attention in positive rather than negative ways.

Unfortunately, we have to be aware that there is bullying even within the ranks of special education.  Students who are physically stronger than others may try to take advantage of their weaker classmates.  Good social skills simply need to be taught to all of our students. 

Several companies have packaged programs for dealing with bullying.  If you find one that fits your school, it may save you a lot of time and energy, but don’t feel that you have to go out and purchase a program.  You can develop your own.

I believe that every school should have a strong academic program for every student, regardless of the student’s abilities.  I also believe that it has become imperative that schools teach proper social skills.  A good place to start is to teach regular education students to treat those who may have disabilities with respect.  Not only will that help to protect our special education students, it will make all of our students better people.

Grant Info:

Grant Name:  U-Act Grants

Funded By:  Red Robin Foundation

Description:  U-ACT, which stands for Unbridled Acts, or random acts of kindness, is a character-building initiative specifically for grades K-8, which aims to inspire and encourage students to be kind to others. The goal of the Red Robin Foundation U-ACT Program is to create a sense of neighborliness inside and outside of school settings and eliminate bullying through Unbridled Acts. Through monthly monetary grants, the Red Robin Foundation U-ACT Program honors schools that exemplify kindness to others and show support in their community through Unbridled Acts. If your class or school is between the grades of K-8 and you want to implement a program to encourage kindness among your students, and receive a grant for doing so, then you can submit a request! Simply come up with an idea of how you would encourage and implement kindness in your class or at your school and send it to the Red Robin Foundation.

Program Areas:  At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, General Education, Math, Reading, Science/Environment, Social Studies, Special Education

Recipients:  Public School, Private School

Proposal Deadline:  3/1/12

Average Amount:  $150.00 – $2,500.00

Availability:  All States

Julie Fraser – The Water Cooler

I’m Julie Fraser the senior buyer for Achievement Products and I watched the Super Bowl last weekend, along with the millions of others who tuned in. Though I had no particular allegiance to either of the teams playing, the game was certain to be a big topic of conversation over the next few days and I didn’t want to feel left out. Even at an age where I should know better, I want to fit in around the water cooler!

The desire to fit in is part of us at any age, but of course it is felt most strongly by teenagers. Over the past couple of years I have participated at conferences and expos focused on children with special needs, and I continually heard from the therapists and special education teachers of teens with special needs that, while those teens benefit from the same type of help and support directed to younger children, it is vital to offer this help and support in a way that recognizes the maturing interests and expanding horizons of the teens placed in their care.  And at Achievement Products, we took that message to heart.

We reviewed our catalog’s content with a number of therapists who helped us identify products ideally suited to support teens in the following areas:

Core Strength – products that stimulate a teen’s natural motivation to move, while strengthening limb coordination, balance, judgment, and visual perception skills.

Life Skills & Socialization – products that assist with management of everyday life skills.

Academics – adaptive products to support classroom performance.

Art & Creativity – items that encourage creative experiences for self-expression and collaborative


Self-Regulation – options to engage in self-regulating behavior in a socially accepted manner.

Teen Cave – options for teens to individualize their sensory environment, to provide a space uniquely theirs to relax in and un-wind.

And we have had a wonderful response, particularly to items such as the weighted Denim OTvest™ (AP5763, AP5764, AP5765); Chewnoodles™ (AP75318, AP11002, AP11003, AP11004); High Back Beanbag Sofa (AP92372, AP923730); Foam Fountain™(AP1155); and Short Reach Slant Board (AP429).

We invite you to take a look at our entire teen collection, and we want to hear from you at this ‘Water Cooler’ that is our blog site!  Please share what resources, services or products have helped the teens in your care to succeed as they grow, mature, and expand their horizons.