A True New Year: Some Tips to Help This Year Be Different for Young Adults with Disabilities

Happy New Year, readers!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, and enjoyed ringing in the New Year with family and friends last night. My New Year’s Eve consisted of hors d’ouerves, chatting, and watching the ball drop with in-laws, complete with sparkling grape juice.

A new year also means a new crop of posts here at IndependenceChick. This always makes me think of persons with disabilities this way: how many of them make resolutions? How many of them hope that in 364 days, they can say their lives are different and better from what they had before? I know I do, and I’m betting most others do, too.

Today, I’m going to focus specifically on one group that I will argue needs the New Year to be different more than perhaps anyone else: young adults who are “transitioning” from high school to “the real world.” We already know the pitfalls of this; often, transition becomes more of the same, with the only thing that changes being, the PWD’s chronological age. I’ve endured that for ten years and let me tell you, it sucks. So the question is then, what can we do to ensure transition doesn’t suck? I’m going to offer a few tips–resolutions, if you will. Here we go:

Resolve To Prepare. Too often, the school system waits until a young adult is 14 or older before discussing “transition plans.” To a point, I understand this. Until they’re young adults, kids with disabilities may not fully grasp the implications of IEPs, 504s, and other plans. Yet, this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be barred from all participation. As disability advocate Kathie Snow says, “Nothing about me, without me.”

Am I saying a five-year-old should be dragged into an IEP meeting? No. But I’d like to see preparation for transitions made earlier, and on smaller scales. For instance:

  • Parents: explain the IEP or whatever plan you use in an age-appropriate manner to children as soon as you have them. Assure your child that he or she has rights in the educational system and community, and that you and their teachers and adult supporters are there to enforce those rights.
  • Teachers: Work with parents and students on miniature transitions. For example, help a child moving from elementary to middle school, to transition effectively. Same for middle to high school. Instead of a simple shuffle to the next special ed room, advocate for the least restrictive environment. Help students learn with typically developing peers. Focus on the fun aspects of the new school, not just “better behavior is expected of you…you must act ‘less disabled’ here.”
  • Young adults: Self-advocate. We’ll discuss what this means for individuals and how to do it effectively later. If someone mistreats you, speak up. If you want something different from the services offered, get the help you need to make that clear. It’s your life–embrace it.
  • Parents/young adults: As much as possible, explore services together. The need for vocational rehab counseling is not an excuse for the PWD’s nonparticipation in finding his or her own job. The need or desire for an out-of-home placement is not a license to place a PWD in the first arrangement you see.

Resolve to Anticipate. Every PWD has a present and a future. Often, the past may have been disappointing or just plain horrible. Parents, teachers, friends, and young adults themselves: resolve to let it go. (I had to go there). 🙂 Resolve to say to yourself: this is how I will make this year different. I am worthy. I am capable. I can do things! Even if the services are minimal and people are telling you to give up, focus on affirmation, not destruction. If you have to, ditch the existing services. Which brings me to:

Resolve to Live a Real Life. Is your home a therapy clinic? Is your schedule crammed with specialist appointments and meetings? Here’s a blunt truth: if that’s what life looks like when your kid is 6, it’s what his or her life will become at 16. By 26, he or she may come to believe, my life is about meetings where I am discussed, but not helped. People talk, but they don’t do anything. Listen up: talk’s cheap. Put some feet to it. Maybe it starts small–replacing one therapy with fun outside, playing catch with Dad. Or instead of yet another meeting to discuss why Jane isn’t meeting her IEP goals, the goals need to be changed. Instead of yet another attempt to get your child with autism to eat something besides crackers and applesauce, perhaps you can slowly phase out those foods using ones similar in color and texture. Parents magazine has a great article on this particular issue called “Picky Eater Rehab.”

Resolve to Work Together. Parents of kids and young adults with disabilities are encouraged to embrace goals from an early point in the PWD’s life. The issue is that much of the work lands squarely on the shoulders of the PWD, and no matter the goal, that can be intimidating. Instead, find ways to meet goals together once they are set. For example, if Logan’s goal is to improve his penmanship, maybe Mom and Dad can find fun ways to do that–playing Cranium or Scattegories instead of sitting in a therapy room practicing letters. If Nora, who is dyslexic, decides her goal is to read Divergent like her friends, great! Start off small, but not with books two or three steps below her grade level unless absolutely necessary. Instead, start with books in the same genre, but shorter, or with easier vocabulary. Use books on tape. Teachers, encourage oral or other modified English assignments.

Note however, that as PWDs age, the goals may get less concrete. A grown child’s goal to find a spouse may seem daunting to a parent, but you can still work together. Help your young adult find social engagements he or she will like, ideally with a mixed group of persons with and without disabilities. If appropriate, discuss online safety and help set up an online dating profile. Discuss marriage and living with another person in a natural way, not, “Do you understand that marriage means you have to ___, can’t ___, should make the goal to ___?” I mean, readers, how would you feel if your spouse came up to you and said, “You’re not meeting your laundry goal. Let’s write a goal–you will put the clothes in the hamper on 5 out of 7 days with 90% accuracy?” Please!

Let’s make transition real this year–by making it different. See you soon with a new post on self-advocacy: what it is and how it can be accomplished effectively at different ages.



  1. galacticexplorer · January 1, 2015

    This is a great post and gives me a lot to think about. 🙂 Just so you know, I like following your blog because it gives me insights on issues that affect people with disabilities that I would otherwise be ignorant of. However, on top of that, my wife and I are planning to adopt some day and, if that child happens to have a disability, I want to be able to be prepared with resources that will help me be the very best parent I can be for them. I don’t want to fall into a pattern of behavior that people insist is “helpful” but actually drags my child down and robs them of their future. So posts like this are really great because it helps me see things from a perspective that I otherwise cannot access, having never experienced things like IEP’s, etc. It means a lot to me.

  2. independencechick · January 1, 2015

    I’m happy to help and wish you the best on adoption. Actually, you’ve given me an idea. What I may do throughout the year is craft some “primer posts” on stuff like IEPs so that people who don’t know a lot about them can learn more. It’ll probably be educational for me too, since even though I have CP, there’s a lot about disabilities other than my own, and more severe manifestations, that I don’t know. Thanks!

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