A front page story1 in a recent New York Times highlights the importance of carefully managing the transition from high school to the working world for autistic students. The transitioning student in the article, Justin Canha, is among the first generation of autistic youths who have benefited throughout childhood from more effective therapies and educational opportunities. At the age of nine, Jason took the top award for a cartooning contest for grades K through 12. His early success encouraged him to set a goal to become an animator-illustrator. He recently took a big step along that path with the help of an important part of his team by winning a part-time, unpaid internship at a local animation shop. He worked for two years with his transition coordinator to ready himself for the work world and the hard work paid off with this small victory.
Challenging for regular students, the transition from high school to adulthood is especially difficult for special needs graduates. In Georgia, transition success is enhanced by a four-phased action plan of engagement, according to the SPDG Project: academic, behavioral, cognitive, and psychological. This involves students, teachers, evaluation tools, implementation indicators, a personal coach, a graduation coach, a collaboration coach, the family, and the community. 2 To better understand these terms, let’s go back to the beginning.
Georgia is a Special Needs Education Leader
During the past four years, the state of Georgia has made impressive improvements in the educational outcomes of children with disabilities. In 2007, the Georgia Department of Education received a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs. The intent of the grant was to better educate special needs children through the delivery of quality instruction from highly qualified teachers. The initiative that was developed in Georgia through this grant was named after the federal program, the State Personnel Development Grant Program (SPDG Project). According to the Georgia SPDG Project, the high school graduation rate of special needs children in Georgia rose from 63.3% in 2002-03 to 75.4% in 2007-08. 3
Georgia is Striving to Do More
Georgia’s Department of Education is pushing for even better results. The initial program involved only 15 middle and high schools in Georgia. Now, the quest is to include more schools. We found a flyer on the internet inviting educators to a 2011 GraduateFIRST Fall Institute held on September 26th and 27th at the Central Georgia Convention Center in Forsyth, Georgia. 4
The lead-in on this flyer asks educators: For students with disabilities, can your school say:
- You have less that 1% drop out?
- Graduation rates increased by at least 8%?
- Attendance has increased and suspensions/expulsions have decreased?
GraduateFIRST is a dropout prevention program developed as a part of the SPDG Project. It is just one of many programs in Georgia. Indeed, there are a myriad of programs in action as a result of the SPDG Project. This is because the solution requires the involvement of an array of people and programs including:
- Existing schools so all students can be educated equally,
- Fully certified teachers with special skills for assessing and planning student-focused curriculums,
- Family-focused planning so parents are not just involved but attentive to their child’s particular program,
- Curriculums focused on postsecondary outcomes and transitions to higher education and career goals, and finally,
- Community-based planning for transitions to independent-living and working.
Transition Coordinators Are Key
The strides have been great, but there is still more to be accomplished. For example, the recruitment, hiring, and training of transition coordinators. The role of the transition coordinator has emerged as a critical element in transitioning high school graduates with special needs to their adult career lives. Few states have specific standards for transition coordinators (cf., Kleinhammer-Tramill, Geiger, & Morningstar, 2003). There is a body of knowledge and a set of skills that transition coordinators should possess, yet it is often learned on the job. 2
In Georgia, as in many other states, there might be too few transition coordinators. Each district has local control over them. A statewide network of these specialists may not yet exist. There might not be a contact list of transition coordinators in the state for collaboration among them. A program for the development of standards is underway at Atlantic University.
The road ahead for the SPDG Project has additional challenges. Goals include wider implementation of programs that support parents as partners in education and family-focused individualized planning; supplemental transition, academic, behavior and individualized transition curriculum; and many more programs that are identified but as yet not instituted.
Have You Done All You Can for the Special Needs People in your Lives?
We acknowledge the accomplishment of the past few years in Georgia, which surely create a benchmark for other states. We hope for the implementation of the future programs outlined by the SPDG Project. We stand ready to help parents of special needs children with resources, legal advice, and financial planning that help ease the mind, so parents can concentrate on the challenges ahead, knowing that the financial and legal aspects are in order. Contact us to set up an appointment today by clicking this link Special Needs Planning by Smith Barid.
1 “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World” by Amy Harmon, New York Times, September 18, 2011. New York Times Article
2 “Professional Development for Transitional Personnel: Current Issues and Strategies for Success” by Mary E. Morningstar and Jeannie Kleinhammer-Tramill, 2005. Read Report
3 Executive Summary PR#H323A070012, Georgia State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG) 2007.
4 2011 GraduateFIRST Fall Institute, sponsored by the Georgia Department of Education Division for Special Education Services and Supports, Forsyth, Georgia, September 26 – 27, 2001.