Hi, I am Ellen Condon. I am the projects director at the University of Montana'S Rural Institute on Disabilities and today I am going to be talking to you about age appropriate transition assessment and discovery.
In Customized Employment we begin with the assumption that everybody can work, regardless of the severity of disability, and that everybody has something to contribute. Customized Employment philosophy embraces the value that you don't have to be able to compete in order to work, and that everybody is ready right now to work. It's up to the IEP team or the adult service agency to create that well- matched job and essential supports for the job seeker to be successful. The team needs to begin with all job development efforts with learning about the student rather than learning about labor market or the student’s performance related to the labor market.
In order to negotiate a unique employment relationship for a student with an employer we first need to have an understanding of what the individual needs are in terms of conditions of employment. Conditions might included features of a work site, the acoustics of an environment, supports that are successful for the person, types of tasks, time of day, length of time working on a task- anything that would make or break the success of the job for that particular person. Each individual's conditions are going to be different. We also need to have a clear vision of what the student can contribute to an employer in terms of what skills they are going to bring, what personal attributes they have to offer, or any particular experiences or specialized training. We need to know what motivates the student to work and about their interests and connections. Finally, we also need a specific list of tasks that they can perform currently or with training if needed. If we are going to customize a one of kind position for someone, all of the above information is needed. We've got to start customized employment with a person not with what the employer needs, although we are going to make a match between them.
The process of gathering information to determine who someone is for the purpose of customized employment is called Discovery. Discovery looks at: what the student does, how they do it, what supports are provided and what strategies are typically used and are successful for that person. During the process of Discovery we look for what works, what doesn’t work, and where the student is most motivated. Where they're at their best. We are also attending to their skills, interests, and abilities. There is an optimistic process. It seeks to uncover the possibilities for employment rather than identify peoples limitations and deficits. Because if we're going to design an experience or design an employment for somebody we got to start with what works well for them. During a student’s school experience Discovery will also uncover strategies and information that can be used to assist that student participate in activities other than vocational. It can look at how to support them to participate in educational experiences, extracurricular activities. IDEA 2004 requires that schools conduct an age appropriate transition assessments that's related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills. The Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT) of the Council for Exceptional Children defines transition assessment as an “…ongoing process of collecting data on the individual’s needs, preferences, and interests as they relate to the demands of current and future working, educational, living, personal and social environments. This assessment data is intended to direct the post school goals and transition services needed to reach those goals. Basically your transition assessment is looking at where the students are currently in terms of how they're learning, what they're doing for employment, what their employability skills are, and looking at taking that information and looking at post school outcomes.
While IDEA mandates schools to conduct assessments the law doesn’t specify which particular assessments or what type of assessments have to be used. Many of the schools nationally struggle with what's an appropriate assessment for somebody with a significant impact of disability. An assessment that will shed light on the student’s current level of performance, where they would like to be post graduation, and also what services and activities are needed to get them there.
For youth with a significant impact of disability traditional assessments are more likely to highlight what they can’t do and how they differ in skills and abilities from peers, rather than provide information about what they can do. Some assessments will screen students with significant disabilities out of employment rather than directing us to a job that is a good match for them that would emphasize what they could do . Many times traditional assessments are completed in an unfamiliar environment and thus those assessments will miss information about where the student excels; how to support them to be most successful. Many students with a significant impact of disability don't do well when novel unfamiliar situations. We are not going to see them at their best. You know other traditional assessment will attempt to direct a student toward a job title or determine the career path that person should pursue. But this is a labor market approach to employment rather than a customized approach. And with the labor market approaches to employment these will lead the job seeker into a competitive process and narrow the field of potential jobs. Many of the students with significant impact of disability aren't going to be competitive employment and so by leading them into a field of competitive employment or competitive process that again is going to set them up for failure.
However the process of Discovery offers an alternate approach to assessment and this process can be used as the Age Appropriate Transition Assessment that is required under IDEA legislation. Discovery is the process of uncovering who the student is at their best, looking across familiar environments for that student, such as home, school, and places in the community where this person really shines and excels. Discovery is considered an informal assessment process and it typically begins with a visit to the student’s home. The process also includes interviewing people who know the student well, observing the student in various environments that are relevant to them, and participating with the student in familiar and some novel activities and settings. Through the process of Discovery the facilitator will gain insight into the conditions needed for the student to be at their best.
To give you and example of how this would work, I recently got the opportunity to get to know a young woman through the process of Discovery. She's 17, and a sophomore in high school. Through interviews with her mother and staff who support her at home I learned that she's most successful when she knows what is expected and what her schedule is. The support staff and her family use quite a few visual strategies to teach her new tasks, to give her information about her routine, and to communicate clearly what the expectations are for her performance in her daily activities. When I visited her home and she invited me Into her bedroom I looked at the walls and a picture was posted above her bed on the wall and the pictures of her bed neatly made up and including straightening the comforter. And so she uses that picture prompt each day to remind her that's the expectation when she gets up is to straighten out her bed and make her bed. There is also a white board in her room and on that white board she writes the day of the week and for each day of the week she writes the name of the support person who's going to be arriving next to provide support for her at home and the community. And so she will write out so and so will be here at 3:30 this Wednesday. When teaching her a new task such as completing laundry, the staff have created videos of the process, and break the video into steps and then down load it on her laptop. She is very motivated by using her computer and what she does is she independently advances the videotape when she finishes one step she advances to the next step. She references that video until she can complete the new task independently and correctly without that visual cue. During her work experiences the team implements a written task list to direct her to the next task and she also uses a task list for her daily routine. That keeps her moving from one activity to the next without requiring someone to let her know that she has the next task coming up. And she likes the predicability of having that list.
Discovery doesn't compare and contrast a student’s performance with others, nor does it attempt to predict the job title in which the student would be most interested or successful. Instead through Discovery the facilitator gathers information about the student’s performance across activities of their life, noting the characteristics of supports, environments and activities that promote most competence for the student. The information that results from Discovery will be optimistic, rich, robust, and descriptive rather than judgmental. You'll see more of a factual picture of how the student performs and what supports they use rather than a comparison or rating of the student when you use Discovery as your age appropriate transition assessment. Discovery will generate a clear understanding of the conditions needed for success; the student's interests, preferences and what motivates them to work; contributions that they can make to an employer in terms of skills, attributes, and personal characteristics; and a list of tasks they can perform now or with future training.
For the young woman above, for her to be successful and at her best she needs a predictable flow of tasks. She prefers to have space where she can move around enough, and so she's not bumping into coworkers or they're not interrupting her. She's highly motivated by seeing what she has completed for work and by finishing her work assignments. Once she is trained on a task and has her task list she will work until her list is completed and doesn't need any supports or prompting from coworkers or a job coach. There are time however when she'll become anxious. That is when she is interrupted on a task before she is finished with it. Once she is upset it takes her about 30 minutes to calm down enough to return to work. So instead of saying that she needs to get ready or get that behavior under control before she goes to work. Alternately, what we say is that there is an ideal condition of a work environment for her is one where her tasks won't typically be interrupted and therefore she'll be at her best and that is an ideal situation. She is very organized, she initiates putting things in their places. She follows directions and cooks from a recipe. Given a picture of an the end product of a recipe she'll create the product that looks just the same. She's decorated cupcakes before from a cook book and the pig face that is in the picture of what the cupcake is supposed to look like, looks exactly what she completes at the end. While cooking is a favorite activity for her, if she's not supervised during the process or when she is around food, she will eat as she cooks. She also benefits from support when she's near available food, especially sweets. She will eat until somebody directs her to stop. So for her also an ideal condition is going to be a work environment where she is not around accessible food even though that is an interest area.
As you can see from this example in describing the student’s performance and routine activities, skills and attributes of theirs become obvious and also information is uncovered about how to support the person or choose a work environment that will be a good match for them and enable them to be successful in community employment.
Discovery helps reframe what may be perceived as barriers in employment and community membership into ideal conditions for success and helps gain clarification of someone’s support needs. Discovery enables us to focus on how someone can participate not why they can’t participate.