Rites of Passage
Transitions for Students with Disabilities
This on-line article has been updated from the version appearing in print.
By Mary Schuh
Growing up is a time of opportunity and risk. Too often, teens with disabilities are left out of vital experiences that assist in lifelong decision making related to higher education, meaningful careers, and sustainable relationships. As young adults learn to negotiate adulthood through various rites of passage, it is vital to discuss their options in the classroom, at IEP meetings, and at home.
Under New Hampshire law, students have the right to a public education until they earn a regular high school diploma or turn 21, whichever comes first.* Although most students graduate when they are about 18 years old, students with qualifying disabilities who do not earn a regular high school diploma can continue to receive a public education that includes both academic instruction and transition services, which are opportunities, with support from the school system, to develop skills needed to make a successful transition to life after high school. These opportunities might include higher education, travel, career exploration, national community service, and independent living.
Students with disabilities and their families must actively begin planning for the future well before the end of high school. For all students, setting goals and having positive dreams evolve out of a wide variety of experiences including extra-curricular activities, internships, relationships, and after-school jobs. Inclusion and participation in typical high school activities including going to the prom, taking drivers’ education, attending graduation parties, and touring college campuses help students better understand what they want for their future. Learning experiences such as opening a checking account, ordering take-out, applying for a credit card, registering to vote, texting, and social media are also part of navigating today’s world.
Lifelong habits of learning and working are inherently promoted and developed through social interaction and typical educational experiences. For students with disabilities, these experiences are especially important for career and educational opportunities, increased social relationships, and a greater likelihood for entering adulthood as valued, contributing members of their communities.
* Despite NH state law that says that the right to special education in NH ends at students’ 21st birthdays, federal law may require NH school districts to provide special education services to students with disabilities until they turn 22, but this has not yet been tested in court.