Transition Planning in the Education System

Where do I begin?
Secondary Transition is the process of preparing youth for life after high school. Transition planning in Pennsylvania is legally required in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) by age 14; however, thoughtful transition planning can begin at any age. In a youth’s high school program, there are three main post-secondary goals that must be addressed: post-secondary education or training, employment and independent living. These three areas are the driving force behind the IEP written for students in high school. Transition planning continues through high school as instruction and community experiences support these postsecondary goals. By beginning to discuss transition as early as possible, the IEP team can work with each youth and their family to plan for the future. This includes selecting classes, activities, and services that will be meaningful and motivating to the youth and lead to his/her postsecondary goals. To assist youth and families in this process the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), Bureau of Special Education (BSE) and the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) provide to all 14 year-old students with an IEP a copy of Pennsylvania’s Secondary Resource Folder and CD. This information can be obtained through your school district, by visiting the PaTTAN website at (found in the section for secondary transition under publications) or by calling-800-360-7282. Throughout the planning process, it is important to remember that, once a student graduates from high school or reaches age 21, she/he is no longer entitled to services through the educational system. A youth must apply and meet eligibility requirements for services provided by adult agencies. 

What happens next?
Transition planning involves a partnership between the youth, their family, educational staff, school-age services, post-school services, program providers and local community members that results in higher education, employment and independent living. Transition should be viewed as a bridge between school programs and the opportunities of adult life. The Secondary Transition Process entails ongoing assessment that results in the youth’s understanding of current strengths, interests, preferences, needs and planning for services and supports needed to achieve future success.

What types of services are available?
The PDE, through the BSE and local school districts, offers a variety of supports to students, parents and family members to ensure a successful transition to post-secondary life. These supports include special education teachers, transition coordinators, rehabilitation counselors, guidance counselors and school health programs. Regionally throughout Pennsylvania, there are 29 Intermediate Units (IU), each with at least one designated transition coordinator. Information regarding Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Units can be found on the PDE website at The PaTTAN works collaboratively with local school districts and Intermediate Units to provide professional development, technical assistance and information regarding transition projects, products and activities that promote successful outcomes for transitioning youth. More detailed information on supports and services provided by PaTTAN can be found at  1

Acknowledgment: PaTTAN

                 Questions, Tips and Hints for Successful Transition Planning – Education

Transition planning helps prepare young people for their futures. Careful planning results in a successful and meaningful transition. Planning should be driven by a youth’s dreams, desires, and abilities. Quality planning helps them to develop skills they need to go on to other education or vocational programs after high school. It builds skills to live, work, and be a valuable part of their community. When youth have an active voice in their planning they learn adult decision making skills and are more interested in their plan and future.

Transition planning is a requirement in an IEP in Pennsylvania beginning at age 14.
Parents can ask for transition planning to be included before the age of 14. At the age of it is a requirement that planning be included in the youth’s IEP. Transition planning, goals, and services are required to be “individualized.” What this must mean is that the youth will have his or her own unique plan, goals, and services.
Transition services MUST be based on the youth’s strengths’ as well as needs. It is important to build on the strengths the youth has when planning for their future. Considering the youth’s preferences and interests are also important. Activities that are part of the transition services must be results-oriented. They must be focused on building specific skills.
Transition services should include instruction, community experiences, and building employment skills.  The plan could include setting goals for post-secondary education, post-school adult living and, if needed, daily living skills training and functional vocational skills. All of these services must be provided in a manner that is sensitive to a youth’s cultural background and native language.

Must a youth be involved in transition planning?

Schools are required to invite a youth to participate in their IEP meetings whenever transition goals or services are considered. A separate invitation (best practice) to the meeting from the school should be given to the youth.

What if my child does not attend or want to attend their IEP meeting?

If a youth is unable or does not want to participate in their IEP meeting, school personnel MUST take steps to ensure that a youth’s preferences and interests are considered in developing the IEP. They could meet with the youth and have a conversation with them about their interests, goals, strengths and weaknesses.
The best transition plans are those that help youth understand their strengths, express their dreams and goals, and set high expectations for work, continuing education or an independent living.
Youth should be included in some way in all aspects of planning and goal setting. The youth should be encouraged to participate in their IEP meetings. Having a meeting before their IEP meeting to prepare the youth, explaining, prepping and sharing with them about what to expect, how the process works and what is in an IEP and why their voice is so important, will help them be more comfortable attending their meeting. The participation of the youth can help keep team members focused on the young person’s individual needs and desires. It also helps the youth develop skills for making decisions and becoming a self-advocate.

How can I be sure that the IEP team meets my child’s transition needs?

In order for an IEP to meet a youth’s transition needs, both parents and school personnel participate in an assessment.
Be familiar with how much assistance your youth needs or does not need to accomplish a task or goal.
You and your youth should review your quarterly IEP (usually given with your youth’s report card) to make sure the transition plan is being followed through with.
If a youth is non verbal or has difficulty communicating parents can still use their knowledge of their child to be sure that transition planning and services reflect the youth’s preferences and choices.
Be familiar with your child’s strengths and needs and what it will take for them to accomplish their goals and dreams. Bring suggestions to the planning meeting that might include, the kind of services, actions, or planning you believe they may need.
Learn as much as possible about the options available for transition planning, a parent can ensure that their young person’s rights are being protected while they are learning the skills needed to develop independence.

What are some suggestions I can give, encourage or help my youth with so they understand the transition process?

Encourage your youth to attend a transition conference. PATTAN  has a conference every July in State College, Pa. There are scholarships available for both the parent and the youth. It is an excellent opportunity for the youth to meet other youth, learn about many different aspects of transition and build leadership and advocacy skills.
There are websites where you can research with your youth, or they can research themselves, vocational programs, higher educational programs, colleges and universities that have support services, interest inventories to see what your youth may or may not be interested in. See resource page for some suggested websites.
Parents, along with school staff, should encourage building self-advocacy skills. Ask the staff to direct questions to your youth. It is important to encourage our youth to use their voice (by any means available) to state their opinions. Encourage and help your youth to understand and accept their disability and have the confidence to ask questions and for accommodations they may need. Remember that you may not always be with them and they will need to be able to advocate for their needs.

What are the programs, services, accommodations, or modifications the youth wants or needs?

Think about and be clear on what they want and need. IEP team discussions address these topics, but often parents and young people have had conversations at home that will be useful in planning.
Research the programs in your area to see if there are some that may meet the needs of your youth. Try and get them involved BEFORE they graduate if possible.

What happens when my child transitions to college?

Leaving home to attend college is an exciting time for both students and parents. However, additional planning may be required to ensure a smooth transition. All colleges and universities are different. You will have to research what each offers. Some suggestions of want to look for are below:

  • Does the school have a accommodations office?
  • Does the school offer any special programs for students with disabilities? Example: TRIO program
  • What is the total number of students and class size? Does my youth need a small class size?
  • What are the housing options: residential (dorms), off-campus living, commuting from home?
  • What does the educational environment look like? I.e. classroom, online, or a combination
  • What is the distance from home to get support from family and friends?
  • Does my youth need to be close or will they be successful farther away?

Will I be able to speak to my youth’s college and get information?
Two federal privacy laws apply to college students: the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Students must give written permission for health and education information to be shared with their parents or anyone else except under certain emergency circumstances. Parents can share information with school personnel if they have a concern about their student, but they may not receive information unless their child has given permission.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 allow students to receive support and accommodations for disabilities. These accommodations are managed through each campus's Office of Disability Services. The name of this office may be different at different colleges.

Colleges have more work with less structure. Teens need to develop effective study skills such as:

  • Organizing study materials and knowing schedules for classes
  • Completing homework, essays, and projects without reminders or involvement from parents, teachers, or tutors
  • Accepting responsibility and consequences for actions (ex. missing a deadline) and learning how to plan for contingencies
  • Attending educational planning meetings (e.g. 504 plan, IEP, etc.)
  • Balancing educational and recreational computer use

Parents should encourage independence in healthcare management. Gradually phase in responsibility for:

  • Scheduling, canceling, and keeping medical appointments
  • Tracking need for and ordering medication refills
  • Storing and keeping medications safely
  • Knowing and talking about their health history

There are many paths to a college degree. Other options include “gap year” programs, part-time work and school, or a community college.

What are some additional important skills my youth will need to be successful? In order to live independently, teens will need a range of life skills, including:

  • Good sleep habits
  • Healthy nutrition and exercise
  • Handling increased social freedom and pressures: drugs and alcohol, dating and sex
  • Running errands (grocery, gasoline) and doing chores (laundry, cooking, and cleaning)