Choices about education are an important part of the transition (change) to adulthood. Some young people may want to stay in high school, others may want to graduate and look at post-high school education. This page aims to help youth with special health care needs and their families navigate the options available and make choices to suit their needs.

Helping Youth Transition

Roles of the Medical Home in Transition

As youth with special health care needs transition to adulthood, the medical home can provide help with education in the following ways:
  • Partner with the student, family, and school to empower independence from the time of diagnosis.
  • Share health information with the school team.
  • Help the student know their condition, self-care, medications and side effects.
  • Work with the school to have self-care of the condition and medications be part of the transition IEP/504/transition plan. See School Types and Options.
  • Look at modifications based on health considerations with the family, student, and transition team.
  • Help the family to actively take part in in the IEP/transition planning.
  • Focus on strengths, talents, and the student’s career goals.
  • Talk about habits of good health.
  • Talk about things that promote responsibility and self-reliance such as money management, laundry, transportation, and so on.
  • Teach where and when to ask for help.
  • Have details available on: vocational choices, schools, work, and independent living. See Services Directory.
  • Have a list of college disability offices if needed. See To College.
For more information, see the AAP statement from the Committee on Children with Disabilities "The Role of the Pediatrician in Transitioning Children and Adolescents With Developmental Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses From School to Work or College." [American: 2000]

Role of the Family in Transition

Throughout high school, part of the family's role is to support independence, self-awareness about abilities, social skills, and navigating the community. The family can help their student set real goals. Graduation may be one of those goals, and it can take many forms, such as waiting one more year for graduation if it will help the student to be ready for post-school life.
Education issues during teenage years need to be addressed on a routine basis and the IEP/504/healthcare plan needs to be changed as the student's health, goals, or competencies change. There are some key points along the way that need attention, as listed below.

Timeline for Transition

The following is a general timeline for transition planning in education. Students who stay in the school system until age 22 will either leave at the end of the school term or on their birthday. Check with your local school district for their policy. Please School Districts (see RI providers [64]).

Ages 14-16

These recommendations apply for all students, but the transition plan MUST be initiated as part of the IEP process when the student is 16. Focus on the student's goals for post-high school living. During this time:
  • Start thinking about graduation goals, and know the state and school district's graduation rules and diploma options. Special Education students should learn about staying in school after 18, if needed.
  • Know what classes and credits are needed to graduate and plan classes and course of study for that reason.
  • Keep in mind social issues, such as recreation and sexuality.
  • Think over driver education. See Transportation Options for Young Adults.
  • Find job interests and skills by trying career exploration, job sampling, and some job training. See After High School Options.
  • Consider summer work or volunteering.
  • Find community services that give job training and placement.
  • Make a job placement file with references and skills that have been gained.
  • Apply to adult services like State Services for People with Disabilities, Vocational Rehabilitation, and independent living services. Some may have long waiting lists.
  • Ask the school team about examinations or competency tests needed for all students for graduation.

Ages 16-18

During this time, it is vital to think about any services the student will need after high school. Call adult services programs about:
  • Colleges, vocational or technical schools.
  • Residential or independent living services (see Independent Living).
  • Recreation and leisure groups (see Recreation Activities).
  • Job training.
    • Find out if family or friends could help provide job training.

Ages 17-18

Based on the disability, some students may stay in school until their 22nd birthday if they are receiving Special Education services to carry out their transition goals. During this time:

Ages 18-21

Consider how long the student will be staying in high school, as well as long-term health and financial needs. During this time:
  • Review and update the student's IEP transition plan.
  • Set up needed health benefits.
  • Create a long-range financial support plan (e.g. SSI).

High School Graduation Decisions

Graduation issues must be looked at by the IEP team on an individual basis as the student enters high school. This should involve the student's participation in state-wide assessments, earning course credits for graduation, and implications of earning either a diploma or certificate of completion. Contact your LEA or Special Education Department to find out what is available in your state.

Vocational Rehabilitation

Vocational rehabilitation (also called voc. rehab. or VR) is a program which aids eligible people with disabilities to prepare for and find a job. This training may include:

  • Counseling and guidance - working closely with the young person to give support and assistance as he/she works toward reaching the job goal.
  • Medical/psychological care – young adults may be referred for services from a doctor or therapist to help with their disability so they can work.
  • Training and education - choices could be on-the-job training, self-employment, supportive employment, short-term vocational training, and college.
  • Assistive technology (AT) - young adults may receive special equipment that will help reach his/her job goal, as well as training on how to use the equipment.
  • Job placement - may involve job coaching, on-the-job training, or referral to an employment service.
  • Other services - may include help with transportation, tools or equipment, or readers or interpreters.
Your state's vocational rehabilitation services, listed at National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, can provide you with more details about options and services in your state.

Rehabilitative Services

The Rhode Island Office of Rehabilitative Services has a strong commitment to assist students with disabilities with transition planning to adult life. ORS Counselors work with all school districts, families and students to prepare for job training, career development and employment opportunities after high school.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Center for Parent Information and Resources (DOE)
Parent Centers in every state provide training to parents of children with disabilities and provide information about special education, transition to adulthood, health care, support groups, local conferences, and other federal, state, and local services. See the "Find Your Parent Center Link" to find the parent center in your state.

State Education Contacts and Information
This page has contact information for state school resources, including the department of education, the higher education agency, special education agency and adult education agency in any state, commonwealth, or territory; U.S. Department of Education.

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
This easy-to-use website provides information about transition during high school and to opportunities after high school including jobs, vocational education, and college. Provides links to contacts in each state for State Transition Contact, Regional Resource Center Contact, State Director of Special Education, Part B Contact, and State Director or Vocational Rehabilitation.
This parent-friendly site provides information, a discussion board, a listserv, resources, student stories, and links to colleges and programs that support youth with intellectual disabilities. Good site for young people with disabilities who are looking into college—search for what’s happening in your state and how to apply.

Transition - Education (PDF Document 119 KB)
This handout provides tips to help youth and young adults get the services they need from schools, and suggests things to consider in transitioning to college and beginning to use adult health care services. From the Institute for Community Inclusion at Children's Hospital, Boston.

Services for Patients & Families in Rhode Island (RI)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: December 2005; last update/revision: May 2019
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Contributing Author: Gina Pola-Money
Reviewer: Tina Persels
Funding: Thank you to the Utah Medical Home Young Adult Advisory Committee for reviewing this section.
Authoring history
2008: revision: Alfred N. Romeo, RN, PhDR
2005: first version: Robin PrattCA; Barbara Ward, RN BSCA; Joyce DolcourtCA; Kristine FergusonCA; Teresa Such-Neibar, DOCA; Lynn Foxx PeaseCA; Helen PostCA; Roz WelchCA
AAuthor; CAContributing Author; SASenior Author; RReviewer

Page Bibliography

American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Children With Disabilities.
The role of the pediatrician in transitioning children and adolescents with developmental disabilities and chronic illnesses from school to work or college. American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Children With Disabilities.
Pediatrics. 2000;106(4):854-6. PubMed abstract
A good overview of the process, the players and the physician's role.