School Transitions - Part 1


This section will offer suggestions to help young people and their families with successful transitions to Pre-School, Elementary School, Middle School/Junior High School, High School and Post-High Adult Life. Population: Preschool through age 21

Stressful Changes

Change, whether positive or negative, can be stressful for all of us. This change can be especially stressful when a young person with a disability is getting ready to move from one educational experience to the next. Parents and students need to be aware of what to expect in the new situation, how to prepare to meet those new challenges, and how to be part of a team that prepares the student, and the school environment, for that new educational experience.

Early Intervention to Pre-School

Early Intervention (EI) programs are designed to provide services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families through the development of an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). From age 3 throughout the school years, the eligible student with a disability receives services through the development of an Individual Education Program (IEP) that focuses on the academic and functional skills of the student. The family involvement is as an IEP team member and planning is focused on meeting the student?s individual needs. Other IEP team members may include the student?s special education teacher, a representative for the school district (often the school principal), other teachers that teach the student, specialists (therapists, aides), etc.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) requires that Early Intervention (EI) service providers take steps to support the transition of a toddler with a disability into preschool or other appropriate services. This support begins with a transition meeting, at least 90 days prior to the child?s 3rd birthday, between the EI program staff and the family to discuss possible services at age 3.

Early Intervention: Tips for families

  • Actively participate in any transition meetings and consider all options presented
  • Visit the recommended pre-school
  • If the student may not be eligible for developmental pre-school, talk with EI about other options
  • Ask EI to recommend options for any family supports that are still needed; consider applying for services from agencies such as Division of Services for People with Disabilities (DSPD), Social Security Administration (SSI benefits)
  • Keep a folder with results of evaluations, copies of IFSP, medical information, other pertinent documents

Pre-School to Elementary School

IDEA requires that a student?s eligibility be continually determined at least every three years. Families can expect that this will occur sometime before the child?s 6th birthday, if the child has had an IEP since the 3rd birthday. At this time, the team may find that evaluation results indicate that the child is eligible for services under a different disability category (such as Specific Learning Disability instead of Developmental Delay). It is important to remember that particular special education services or service patterns are not dependent on disability category; services are determined based on individual student need.


Kindergarten will probably be quite different from pre-school: usually a longer day, more days per week, and more students in the class. These changes will be apparent, also, as the student moves from kindergarten to first grade. In addition, the focus is on academic and functional skills. Students will be expected to learn to participate in pre-reading and pre-math activities geared to student abilities, to navigate the school building to access activities and services, and to adapt to a variety of expectations from a variety of adults.

Pre-School and Kindergarten: Tips for families

  • Plan for before and after school care, if needed
  • Communicate regularly with all of the child?s teachers
  • Talk with the child?s teachers to see if it would be appropriate to talk with other students in the class about the child?s disability, skills, adaptive equipment used, etc.
  • Visit the school/classroom/playground with the child or, if not possible, take pictures of the school/classroom/playground to familiarize the child with the new environment
  • Help your child learn important locations in the new setting (e.g. office, bathroom, cafeteria)
  • Be ready to share your child?s strengths and needs, likes and dislikes, and important facts about your child?s disability with school staff
  • Participate in each IEP meeting
  • Read the school handbook
  • Continually update your child?s education folder with copies of IEPs, progress reports, health care plans, etc.

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