We have all heard the success stories -- famous people, like Tom Cruise or Cher, who succeed despite a learning disability. But what about the people who don't make it?
I teach students with LD, and far too often I see the flip side of success: the young man who, three years after graduation, still lives at home with his parents because of his poor reading skills...the girl who made good grades in high school, but had no vocational training and now finds herself without direction.
And then there's Joey.
Joey struggled throughout high school with core curriculum requirements. Even though he planned to attend a technical training school, he still trudged through Spanish 1 and Biology. It took two extra years to graduate because he kept failing to earn the required credits. By the time he graduated, he had still not passed the state's exit exam and only earned a certificate of attendance. The technical college would not admit him without the diploma, so Joey is now attending GED (General Education Diploma) classes. He has taken the test twice and failed it both times. He's been out of school for four years, and every time I see him, he is more frustrated and anxious. This is the school's failure, not Joey's. And it should not have happened.
The Legal Story
Recent amendments to the IDEA mandate that by the age of 14, each student with LD will have transition addressed in his or her Individual Education Plan (IEP). Transition may be addressed at any age if the parent and/or teacher feels the student is ready, but it must be included on the IEP if the student is 14.
You are crucial to your child's successful transition. Your input and knowledge of your child's interest and goals are unequaled by any testing or teacher suggestions. This knowledge will help narrow the path your child will follow to post-secondary activities. Post-secondary activities may include all or some of the following: employment, vocational training, independent living, community participation, social interaction, and/or college. Not all LD students will need transition instruction in all areas, but for a successful transition, your child will need four basic skills:
- Self-advocacy skills.
- Working knowledge of legal rights.
- Knowledge of necessary accommodations and modifications.
- Self-assessment skills.
Without these skills, it is difficult for post-high school success. You must request that the IEP statement on transition addresses the skills you feel your child lacks. It is imperative that all members of the IEP meeting -- parent, student, teacher, and principal -- give the IEP's transition goals serious consideration and planning.
How to Ensure Success
As you go into the meeting, here are some questions to consider:
- Does my child plan on attending college or entering the work force?
- Does my child have the necessary abilities to succeed in the career he has chosen?
- What type of instruction is needed to give my child the greatest chance for success?
- What type of interests does my child have?
- Is my child's learning problem so severe that working without support or living away from home is not feasible?
- Will my child need on-the-job accommodations?
- Is my child able to vocalize his or her needs?
By answering these questions, you will start to set your child on the path toward independence. Next, you must follow through with your child's transition education. IDEA specifically mentions the community's participation as an important aspect of a child's education. Many students with disabilities see communities as groups of buildings. You must make your child feel she is a part of her community. For example, you might suggest that she wash her clothes at the laundromat or borrow magazines and CDs from the library. Encourage her to open a savings account and make bank transactions. Try to give responsibilities that will follow over into adult living.
Once your child reaches 14, you must do the following:
- Speak openly and often with your child's LD teacher about any transition goals. Remember: You have a legal right to view, copy, and/or request a change to your child's IEP.
- Keep records and copies of all school IEP meetings, conferences, and medical visits (related to the disability).
- Attend all IEP meetings and request that your child attends also.
- Help your child gain independence by extending responsibilities and allowing independent thinking.
Transition education is one of the most important aspects of your child's education. The only way to prevent large amounts of LD children from being unemployed or stuck in low-paying jobs is to prepare them (while they are still in school) to choose attainable goals and work toward achieving skills needed for independence. Helping your child achieve these goals benefits not only the student, but her parents, teachers, and community as well.