Navigating Agency Support

Maximize Individual Potential for Independence

Tips for Focusing on Building Skills for Independence during the High School Years

For students and youth in transition to adult life, the high school years afford many opportunities to identify and provide instruction, services, supports and interventions to increase independence skills. In fact, the entire high school curriculum and experience should be built around the individual’s transition service needs, potentially lessening the need for ongoing and long term supports into adult life.

Transition Assessment as a Multi Agency Process

Transition assessment and planning for transition shift the emphasis of the IEP from implementing annual goals to providing transition services, instruction and experiences geared to achieve post-school goals. Starting transition assessment and planning early and with adult agency partners broadens the perspective of the student’s current skills to consider how those skills prepare him/her for adult life. Use an ‘adult lens’ to probe students’ Preferences, Interests, Needs and Skills/Strengths (PINS). Identify the ‘gaps’ in skills and target those areas for the development of annual goals and transition services.

Use Facts and Data from Transition Assessment to Develop Post School Goals

When transition planning begins in earnest at age 14, it is fairly typical that a student's plans for adult life are vague and broad. That’s OK! Start by building a profile of the student’s PINS and use the information to prioritize areas to assess. Transition assessment results, that are ongoing and individualized to the student’s needs related to adult life, provide data for the team to use in discussion about both jobs and environments in which the student can achieve success as an adult.

Review School Based Supports through an ‘Adult Lens’

School based interventions and accommodations may work well in academic and school settings, but may not be appropriate or effective in or for the wider community. Transition Assessment that takes place in the authentic community and workplaces adds an important dimension to the process. Assessment conducted in these environments and settings can reveal gaps in student’s behavioral, social, coping and other skills that are not apparent in school settings but are ‘soft skills’ necessary for independence. The degree to which a student effectively navigates and is productive in various environments is critical to determining areas for development. Planning assessment with representatives of adult serving agencies, such as OOD and County Boards of DD, can add a valuable perspective to gaps in the student’s current level of independence related to adult and workplace expectations.

Build on Strengths, Fade Intensive Supports to Maximize Independence

Partners from adult service agencies can bring information to the team regarding a student’s current supports, especially those that are 1:1 in-person or otherwise intensive. Services that are intense are unlikely to be available or appropriate long term in adult settings. Build on the student’s strengths revealed by transition assessment . Begin systematically fading intensive supports, as the student progresses in gaining skill. For example, in-person prompts could be replaced with prompts provided via a smart phone or tablet. Working to maximize a student’s ability to be independent increases the likelihood that he/she will not need to rely on intensive, ongoing supports into adulthood. Being more independent also opens doors for the student or youth to additional employment and other adult life opportunities.

Team Discussion - What Does Independence Look Like for this Student?

Consider what it means for anyone to be independent. Does that mean there are no supports at all? Of course not! All adults rely on an array of supports, most of which are readily available and ubiquitous to adult environments. Smart phones have many built in accommodations such as calendars, calculators, reminders, prompts, apps, etc. Some supports fulfill personal needs such as glasses, fitness trackers, routines, friends, social media. A part of being ‘independent’ is being self-determined enough to know how and when to use or ask for supports. As a team discuss what independence does look like for this student. Use transition assessment data to determine skills to target for improvement.

Involve Related Services Personnel

Involve therapists in transition assessment and planning for students who receive related services such as speech, OT or PT. Skills typically addressed through therapy are frequently foundational to independence: communication, vocabulary, articulation, stamina, mobility, travel skills, just to name a few. Therapists can add valuable data to the mix and assist with assessment in adult environments. Their perspective can surface how skill demands on the student in relatively controlled school environments are different from those in authentic adult environments.

Guiding Questions for Transition Assessment

Here are some Guiding Questions to start or continue transition assessment and planning around the crucial area of independence:

  • What accommodations, interventions, supports, services, etc. is the student receiving now?
  • What skills does the student need to develop to become more independent of these?
  • Are the supports the student is receiving now appropriate for adult environments?
  • Available as provided now within the adult service system?
  • Which independence skills are a priority for this student?
  • What types of supports will the student need in adult environments?
  • How can technology provide support to the student?
  • What transition services and instruction will assist the student to maximize independence?
  • What does a maximum level of independence look like for this student?
  • Which skills are amenable to improvement and which skills will require ongoing support?
  • What types of natural supports are available across a range of community and adult environments?
  • Could they be provided by family, friends, coworkers?
  • Are their supports naturally built into adult environments the student can be taught to use effectively?

Skills for Independence - ABroad Range of Areas

The area of “independence” encompasses a number of complex skills to examine in transition assessment and planning:

  • Communication
  • Self Advocacy
  • Decision Making
  • Problem Solving
  • Self Awareness
  • Self Determination
  • Mobility and Travel
  • Hygiene and Grooming
  • Health and Safety
  • Relationships
  • Team work
  • Employability Skills