Life After High School for Young Adults with Disabilities

Transition Process

After high school graduation, young adults with disabilities typically choose between attending college/postsecondary program or entering the workforce. Planning for life after high school involves transition, and the key to successful transition is careful planning. It is important to start early, and student should be actively involved in the planning process.

The transition planning process should enable the student to move on successfully from high school based on his/her own preferences, interests, and abilities. The planning should not only include the student’s goals and what is needed to reach the goals, but also the agencies and organizations that will provide the required services and supports along the way.

A key instrument to ensure a student receiving special education services is prepared for life after high school is the Individualized Education Program (IEP). In Virginia, by age 14, a student must begin to focus on post high school goals, and by age 16, the student’s IEP must have a Transition Plan, which includes the goals and what the student needs to reach those goals. This includes course work, learning activities, and the experiences the student needs to develop the necessary skills and knowledge needed to succeed.

Rights and Responsibilities

It is important to remember the differences between high school and life after. One of the key differences is the change from entitlement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (to a free and appropriate education) to eligibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability and ensures equal access. At the college level, there are no special education teachers or employment and transition representatives to provide the supports and services that are available in high school.

Another major difference is that students must be ready to advocate for themselves. There are, however, academic adjustments that are available at the college level, which are determined based on disability and individual needs and may include such services as priority registration, course substitution, note takers, sigh language interpreters, and extended test time. If the student wants the school to provide an academic adjustment, it must be requested from the college department that handles services for students with disabilities and the student must self-identify as having a disability and be responsible for complying with the school’s procedures.

Paying for College

Attending college costs money – tuition, books, fees, room and board, health insurance, and incidentals. Many students look to a combination of financial aid such as scholarships, grants, loans, and/or work-study jobs. However, seeking financial aid should be explored through multiple channels, including scholarships. The college’s financial aid office is a good resource for information on student aid available from multiple sources. However, students should start their search early as possible in high school because there are timelines and deadlines associated with the application process for scholarships, grants, and loans, etc. Students should consider completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which allows students to be considered for the greatest amount of financial aid from federal, state, and college sources.

If you are eligible for Medicaid, it may pay the premiums for college health insurance. If you are receiving Medicaid funding for community-based support, the funds may be used for education-related expenses, such as transportation or educational coaching. Also, you may be eligible for health insurance coverage under your parent’s policy, up to the age of 26.

Help with Transition

In addition to high school teachers and guidance counselors, there are organizations and agencies in Virginia that are available for help in the transition process:

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Center on Transition Innovation provides information on pathways that lead to employment, postsecondary education, and independent living skills for youth with disabilities.

Arc of Northern Virginia has produced a series of Transition POINTS that provide information covering the lifespan of individuals with intellectual disabilities; one of them is a “ Securing a Future for Your Child with a Disability," which is a parents’ guide to available services.

Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) has two programs in the field of specialized employment designed to prepare persons with disabilities for competitive employment.

Specially Adapted Resource Clubs (SPARC) is an innovative organization for youth ages 22 and over with disabilities providing vocational and independent living skills.

Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services offers numerous school-to-work transition services designed to prepare for employment and independent living. Early involvement is key for vocational rehabilitation (VR). Three years before leaving high school, students should talk with a VR counselor about applying for VR services.

Mason LIFE at George Mason Universityis a postsecondary program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities who want to pursue a college education in a supportive academic environment. The program offers a four-year residential program to attend classes and live on campus.

Other Resources

Fairfax County Public School Career and Transition Services

College Funding for Students with Disabilities

Secondary Transition: Why it is important to plan early

Virginia Division of Rehabilitative Services Transition Guide

Disability Law Center of Virginia  

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education




















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