Guiding your child through their early years, obtaining required medical treatment, enrolling in community and school programs that will aid them in their development, fostering goals and social skills are a real challenge for most families. Many parents struggle for years to ensure their child is getting the best services they can possibly find. Then, suddenly, their child is 22,has graduated from public school programs and the protective confines of the IDEA act into a very scary adult world where nothing is totally certain. Now what?
When do we need to start thinking about what to do when they leave school? When do they leave school anyway? What supports are available in the community? Are there legal issues that need to be considered? When is my child considered an adult and what, if anything, do I need to do about it? Who do I talk to and what do I do?
Preparing for adulthood begins, as it does for all of us, at birth. Individuals and families begin planning, building dreams and expectations for the future, expecting a normal, full life. For a child with disabilities this process can be more of a challenge. As with all of us, attention should be paid to each person's strength's and weaknesses. Their preferences and goals must be considered and are essential to their future success.
Before you begin this process there is one specific principal to keep in mind. That is the principal of Self Determination. Self-determination is the right to build your own ideas and dreams about what you want to do with your life. Our children, regardless of their circumstances, have that same right to the best of their ability. Most children will have a core group of goals and dreams they can voice or express to their parents starting at an early age. It is important to pay attention to these goals even if they may seem far-fetched or even impossible.
At the core of Self-Determination are the following values, which must be considered.
- Freedom to make choices about services and supports.
- Authority to decide how one's income and support funding is used.
- Support from a network of resources including family, friends, and community.
- Responsibility to be accountable for decisions and contribute to one's community.
It is important to encourage your family member with disabilities to have dreams and goals for their future, no matter how far-fetched they may seem. One way of doing this is creating a person or family-centered plan that will help guide everyone involved in this person's life in helping him or her become successful. This plan should begin early with the first transition planning goals made in the first of your child's IEP meetings.