To compare the status of transition planning for students with intellectual disability, autism, or other disabilities, we used data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, a federally funded, national study of the secondary and postschool experiences of students with disabilities. Results show that although transition planning had been conducted for the majority of students, few of them took a leadership role in their transition planning. Students with autism or intellectual disability were significantly less likely than students with other disabilities to take a leadership role. The majority of the active participants in transition planning were school-based personnel. We also found limited participation from other agencies/support persons (e.g., vocational rehabilitation). Students with autism or intellectual disability had more identified needs for support after school than did students with other disabilities.
The transition to adulthood can be a challenging period for all adolescents as they move from the education system to various postschool environments (e.g., college, employment, community). Adolescents with disabilities face additional challenges (Chambers, Rabren, & Dunn, 2009; Wehmeyer & Palmer, 2003), including the transition from an entitlement-driven system (i.e., special education) to multiple eligibility-driven systems (e.g., adult services, postsecondary education disability services, housing supports) (Hanley-Maxwell, Whitney-Thomas, & Pogoloff, 1995). The supports and services that youth experience for most of their education are no longer guaranteed and can be complex to reestablish in the adult world (McDonnell & Hardman, 2010; Wehman, 2006). Researchers have suggested that adolescents with autism or intellectual disability or their families particularly struggle with the transition to adulthood (Blacher, Kraemer, & Howell, 2010; Neece, Kraemer, & Blacher, 2009). Students with intellectual disability or autism lag behind their peers with other disabilities in achieving employment, independent living, and community participation (Billstedt, Gillberg, & Gillberg, 2005; Luftig & Muthert, 2005; National Organization on Disability, 2004).
The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines transition services as a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that is designed within a results-oriented process, focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child to facilitate movement from school to postschool activities. IDEA requires that transition planning commence by age 16 for students with disabilities (the 1997 amendments to IDEA required that transition planning commence by age 14) and that measurable postsecondary goals be developed and included in the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for transition-age students. Transition planning is not formally defined in IDEA. However, the law emphasizes the importance of student and family involvement in the process and taking into account student's preferences and interests in developing postschool goals. Further, the law indicates that a diversity of activities can be involved in transition planning and emphasizes the coordination of these activities in transition services.
Researchers have suggested that transition planning can have a positive impact on postschool outcomes (Test et al., 2009) and that families who are actively involved in transition planning report greater satisfaction with transition outcomes for their children (Cooney, 2002; Neece et al., 2009). Best practices in transition planning emphasize student and family involvement, the development of an individualized transition plan focused on developing student skills linked with desired life outcomes, and coordination with adult service agencies (Alwell & Cobb, 2006; Test, Aspel, & Everson, 2006). However, although mandated by IDEA, transition planning has often been described as inadequate for student with disabilities. Researchers have suggested that many schools fail to meet minimum levels of compliance with the federal transition mandates, particularly in the areas of service coordination and interagency collaboration, student and family involvement, basing goals on student's preferences and interests, and linking transition goals to academic experiences (Johnson, Stodden, Emanuel, Luecking, & Mack, 2002). Researchers have also suggested differences in the characteristics of transition planning based on disability label (Katsiyannis, Zhang, Woodruff, & Dixon, 2005; Wagner & Davis, 2006), although no investigators have compared students with intellectual disability, autism, and other disabilities using nationally representative data.
Given the emphasis on transition planning in disability policy and research and the empirical link between effective transition planning and postschool outcomes, including postschool education, employment, and independent living (Test et al., 2009), it is critical to understand the characteristics of transition planning (e.g., student involvement, active participation in transition planning, characteristics and suitability of transition goals, postschool service needs and contacts) for students with disabilities, particularly for those with intellectual disability or autism who struggle with achieving employment and community participation in adulthood (Billstedt et al., 2005; Wehmeyer & Palmer, 2003). Limited research has been conducted to explicitly compare characteristics of transition planning for representative samples of students with intellectual disability, autism, and other disabilities. Therefore, our purpose in this study was to use extant data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2), a federally funded, national study of the secondary and postschool experiences of students with disabilities, to compare the characteristics of transition planning for students with intellectual disability, autism, or other disabilities.
The NLTS2 was funded by the U.S. Department of Education to collect longitudinal data on the secondary and postsecondary experiences of a national sample of students representing each of the 12 federal disability classifications in IDEA (SRI International, 2000; Wagner, Kutash, Dunchnowski, & Epstein, 2005). Data collection began during the 2000–2001 school year and was collected in 2-year waves over a 10-year period. Data were collected from multiple respondents and in multiple formats, including parent and student telephone interviews, direct assessments of students, teacher and school surveys, and student transcript analysis (SRI International, 2000).
The NLTS2 sampling process was designed to allow the results to generalize to the full population of students receiving special education services in the United States. To achieve this, the developers used a two-stage sampling process. In the first stage, districts serving students ages 14–16 years who were in 7th grade or above were randomly selected from all school districts in the nation. The sample of districts was stratified to represent different geographic regions, sizes, and socioeconomic statuses. In the second stage, students were randomly selected from each of the districts (Wave 1, n = 11,270 students). Approximately 1,000 students from each IDEA disability category (i.e., autism, deafness–blindness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech–language impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment) were sampled to ensure adequate representation of each of the categories. Sample weights were then calculated that allowed the study sample to be weighted to represent students nationwide who receive special education services. Weights were calculated for each data-collection instrument in each wave of the study and are available to researchers accessing the complete NLTS2 dataset through the National Center for Education Statistics at the Institute of Education Sciences.
For our purposes here, we used data from Wave 1 of NLTS2, which provided an initial picture of the transition planning experiences of students aged 14 (the age at which transition planning was required to commence under IDEA 1997) and older. We analyzed data on transition supports and services collected through the Parent Telephone Interview and the School Program Survey (completed by the teacher most knowledgeable about the student's educational program). The interview, which lasted approximately 60 minutes, was completed using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) software, where skip logic was preprogrammed into the questions seen by the interviewer on the computer screen (e.g., if a parent reported that he or she was not present at the child's last IEP meeting, further questions dependent on being present at the meeting were skipped). The Parent Telephone Interview included a section on family interaction/involvement to assessed parents' perceptions of student and family involvement in the IEP and the usefulness of planning for life after high school. The response rate for the interview for Wave 1 was 82%. In terms of the number of respondents per disability category on the Parent Telephone Interview, for the first question relevant to transition planning, the raw sample size was as follows: intellectual disability, n = 730; autism, n = 830; and other disabilities, n = 6,080. The sample size varied for different questions because of the CATI skip logic; however, there was a sufficient sample for all questions to enable us to perform the analyses described below.
The School Program Survey included questions about all aspects of the student's school program, including a section on the transition to adult life. The survey was a paper and pencil questionnaire, and the response rate for Wave 1 was 59%. In terms of the number of respondents per disability category on the School Program Survey, for the first question relevant to transition planning, the raw sample size was as follows: respondents with intellectual disability, n = 420; autism, n = 420; and other disabilities, n = 3,150. The sample size varied for different questions; however, there was a sufficient sample for all questions to allow us to perform the analyses described below. (Further information can be obtained on the NLTS2 website: http://www.nlts2.org/.)
We extracted questions from the Parent Telephone Interview and the School Program Survey relevant to transition services, and supports were extracted from the overall NLTS2 dataset. The following tables present the questions extracted from the NLTS2 dataset. Because our primary interest was in the experiences of students with intellectual disability or autism, we also recoded the NLTS2 disability classification variable to create three groups: intellectual disability, autism, and other disability (all other disability labels combined). This allowed us to make comparisons among students with intellectual disability, autism, and other disabilities. Then, using the Complex Samples Module in SPSS 18.0, we calculated descriptive statistics (mean ratings or percentages of students) for each of the three groups (i.e., intellectual disability, autism, other disabilities) on the relevant transition services and supports questions. Complex sample procedures calculate estimated standard errors for weighted data in a stratified sample such as the NLTS2. Through use of the sample weights calculated for NLTS2 data, the reported percentages, means, and standard errors represent population estimates for students with intellectual disability, autism, and other disabilities nationally. Next, for categorical variables, we used the Crosstabs procedure; and for continuous variables, we used the General Linear Model procedure within the Complex Samples Module to compare the three groups, using a significance level of p < .01 because of the number of comparisons made. When significant omnibus differences were found, we followed up with paired contrasts to identify the source of the omnibus differences.
Transition planning, instruction, goals, and progress
The average age when transition planning began was similar for all three groups (14.4 years for students with autism or other disabilities and 14.5 for students with intellectual disability). Table 1 provides information on the status of transition planning and transition-focused instruction, the linkage between course of study and transition goals, and the primary goal of education programs for students with intellectual disability, autism, or other disabilities. Students with intellectual disability were significantly more likely than those with other disabilities to have received instruction specific to transition. Table 1 also provides data on the primary postschool goals across disability groups, and there were significant differences in goals across groups. (Note that in the survey, respondents were asked to check all of the primary goal areas that applied rather than ranking goals by importance/emphasis.) Students with intellectual disability or autism were significantly less likely to have primary goals related to integrated postsecondary education or employment (i.e., college, vocational training, and competitive employment), but they were more likely to have primary goals related to maximizing functional independence and social relationships. However, there were also differences between students with autism or intellectual disability; for example, students with autism were significantly less likely than students with intellectual disability to have goals related to competitive employment and living independently.
Teachers were also asked to rate the progress students were making toward their transition goals (see Table 2). Those with intellectual disability or autism tended to receive lower ratings of progress across domains than were students with other disabilities; statistically significant differences were found in the domains of graduation, independent living, social/interpersonal skills, and self-advocacy. When asked to rate the suitability of the school program for preparing students to achieve goals, teachers rated the suitability as fairly well to very well for all students.
Participation in transition planning
In the School Program Survey, teachers were asked to report on the student's involvement in the transition planning process as well as other active participants in the transition planning process (see Table 3). Students with intellectual disability or autism had significantly higher levels of no or limited participation compared with students with other disabilities, and students with autism were the least likely to attend their meetings. Students with other disabilities were significantly more likely to provide input or lead their transition planning than were students with autism or intellectual disability.
Table 3 also provides information on active participants in the transition planning process. Teachers were asked to indicate (yes/no) the degree to which various stakeholders were active participants, which was defined in the survey as being involved in discussions on choosing services and goals. The special education teacher was the most likely to be involved for all students, followed by parents/guardians and the student. However, students with autism were much less likely to be characterized as active participants than were students with intellectual disability or other disabilities. Students with intellectual disability or those with autism were less likely to have general education academic teachers as active participants than were students with other disabilities, and students with autism were significantly less likely to have general education vocational teachers as active participants. Students with autism were more likely to have related service personnel, and students with intellectual disability were more likely to have active participants from vocational rehabilitation. Students with autism were more likely to have an advocate present at their meeting than were students with other disabilities. All students had very low percentages of active involvement by staff of the Social Security Administration, potential employers, and representatives of postsecondary education.
Postschool service needs and contact made
Table 4 identifies the key service or program needs identified for students with intellectual disability, autism, or other disabilities. Teachers were asked to indicate (yes/no) whether students had needs in each of the areas listed in Table 4. Vocational, transportation, postsecondary education, and independent living supports were identified as needs for the largest numbers of students with intellectual disability or autism. With the exception of postsecondary education supports, students with autism or intellectual disability were significantly more likely to be identified as having needs in these areas compared with students with other disabilities (the reverse was true for postsecondary education). Students with autism were also significantly more likely to be identified as having speech or communication, mental health, behavioral intervention, occupational therapy, and mobility training needs than were students with other disabilities. Students with autism were the least likely to be identified as having no support needs after high school.
Teachers also were asked to indicate whether contact had been made with agencies/supports that could meet student's postschool needs. Students with intellectual disability or autism were more likely than students with other disabilities to have had contacts made with vocational rehabilitation providers, supported employment providers, social service agencies, the Social Security Administration, mental health agencies, sheltered workshops, supervised residential support agencies, and adult day programs. Students with intellectual disability were significantly less likely, however, than were students with other disabilities to have had contacts made with colleges. A complete list of the identified support needs and contacts made about postschool support needs can be found in Table 4 as can the percentage of parents who had been provided information about services available after high school.
Parent Perspectives and Satisfaction
Parent/guardian responses to Parent Telephone Interview questions relevant to transition planning are presented in Table 5. Parents indicated that significantly fewer youth with autism or intellectual disability attended their IEP meetings compared with students with other disabilities. Significantly more parents/guardians of youth with autism reported attending the last IEP meeting than did parents/guardians of students with intellectual disability or other disabilities. However, parents reported that youth with autism were significantly less likely to have met with teachers to set postgraduation goals. As shown in Table 5, there were no differences across groups in parents' perceptions of who primarily developed the IEP goals and in the family's perceptions of their involvement in the IEP process. Parents were also asked how to rate the usefulness of the planning for their child's life after school on a scale of 1 to 4 (very useful to not at all useful). Parents of students with intellectual disability ranked the planning as most useful (M = 1.7, SE = .04), followed by parents of students with other disabilities (M = 1.9, SE = .06), and parents of students with autism (M = 2.1, SE = .03). These scores significantly differed from each other, F(2, 410) = 21.57, p < .001, with significant differences in the usefulness rankings made by parents of students with intellectual disability or autism, F(1, 410) = 35.19, p < .001, and parents of students with intellectual disability or other disabilities, F(1, 410) = 22.68, p < .001.
At a surface level, the data suggest that schools are in compliance with the transition mandates of IDEA. The average age at which transition planning commenced was around 14 for students, which is congruent with the 1997 amendments to IDEA, requiring that transition planning begin at age 14, that were in place when the NLTS2 Wave 1 data were collected (the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA increased the required age to 16). As shown in Table 1, the majority of students had received instruction on transition planning and had an IEP that detailed a course of study linked to transition goals. When probing these results in greater depth, however, issues emerged. For example, only 66% of students with autism had an IEP that specifically linked the student's course of study to transition goals. Because these numbers represent population estimates, this can be interpreted to mean that 34 out of every 100 secondary students with autism in our nation do not have an IEP that links their course of study with transition goals. A student's plan of study creates a process (i.e., coursework and other learning opportunities, educational supports and services) for moving through secondary education in a purposeful way; however, it appears that for a large number of students in our nation, limited consideration is being given to individualizing a program of study based on a comprehensive understanding of the student's interests, preferences, and postschool dreams. More research is needed on the implementation of strategies in schools to link a student's program of study to his or her postschool outcomes and the impact of including this statement in the transition plan (Johnson et al., 2002). Between 24 and 36 of every 100 secondary students with disabilities have not received instruction focused on transition planning. Although students with intellectual disability were more likely than were students with autism or other disabilities to receive such instruction—perhaps because of the emphasis on self-determination and self-advocacy for this group of students (Wehmeyer & Mithaug, 2006; Wehmeyer & Shogren, 2008)—it is troubling that given the importance placed on transition planning, a large percentage of students are not receiving specific instruction on the skills necessary to be successful in this process. A variety of strategies exist for teaching students how to become active participants in transition planning (Martin, van Dycke, Christensen, et al., 2006; Test & Neale, 2004; Wehmeyer & Lawrence, 1995), and more research is needed regarding the factors that enhance and impede the inclusion of this instruction in student's education.
Not unexpectedly, when looking at the primary goals of transition planning for students with intellectual disability, autism, or other disabilities, we found that goals related to employment were common for all students. However, there were significant differences across the groups both in the specific types of goals related to employment and in other domains. For example, students with intellectual disability or autism were much less likely to have goals related to competitive employment and more likely to have goals related to sheltered and supported employment. Further, students with autism were much more likely than those with intellectual disability to have goals related to sheltered employment and less likely to have goals related to competitive employment. It is troubling that 39 out of every 100 students with autism and 20 out of every 100 students with intellectual disability in our nation had primary goals related to sheltered employment, despite the focus on integrated employment, community participation, and equal access for people with disabilities as well as data suggesting that people with disabilities earn higher wages in competitive employment (Migliore, Grossi, Mank, & Rogan, 2008). However, Migliore and colleagues found that 46% of adults with intellectual disability or 40% of families did not recall anyone encouraging them to pursue employment outside of sheltered workshops. Given the availability of supported and customized employment options that create opportunities for integrated, wage-earning work experiences with appropriate supports (Griffin, Hammis, Geary, & Sullivan, 2008; Wehman & Revell, 1997), there is a critical need to explore the individual and ecological factors that predict the employment goals (and the associated instruction and postschool contacts) for students with intellectual disability or autism.
Individuals with autism or intellectual disability were significantly more likely to have goals related to maximizing functional independence and enhancing interpersonal relationships, which is congruent with research establishing these as key domains for students with intellectual disability or autism (Browning, Osborne, & Reed, 2009). It is troubling, however, that students with autism were significantly less likely to have goals related to living independently than were students with intellectual disability or other disabilities. Only 28 out of every 100 students with autism in our nation had primary goals in this area. Further research is needed to determine the factors that influence the lack of emphasis on independent living for this population. Students with intellectual disability or autism were also significantly less likely to have goals related to attending college or postsecondary vocational training. In fact, only 10% of students with intellectual disability and 23% of students with autism, compared with 52% of students with other disabilities, had goals related to attending college. Given the emphasis on postsecondary options for students with intellectual disability or autism (Hart, Grigal, & Weir, 2010), it is troubling that the number of students for whom college is a goal remains so low. Research is needed on barriers to IEP teams identifying college or postsecondary vocational training as a realistic option for students with intellectual disability or autism. Finally, as shown in Table 2, students with autism or intellectual disability were perceived as making significantly less progress on transition goals (e.g., postsecondary education, independent living) than were students with other disabilities. This finding is worthy of further investigation, particularly because the teachers did not rate the suitability of the educational program differently across the three groups of students.
Despite the emphasis on student involvement in transition planning reflected in IDEA and best-practice recommendations, the results indicate that a very small number of students with any disability label take a leadership role at their IEP meeting, but significantly fewer students with intellectual disability or autism take a leadership role than do students with other disability labels. It is particularly concerning that 10 out of every 100 students with intellectual disability and 23 out of every 100 students with autism did not even attend their transition planning/IEP meeting and that 36% and 45% attended but participated very little or not at all. These findings are congruent with other research (e.g., Martin, Van Dycke, Greene, et al., 2006), suggesting limited student involvement at IEP meetings, but brings attention to the fact that despite the critical importance placed on student involvement and leadership, significant numbers of students are not prepared to effectively participate in the IEP meetings (Agran, Blanchard, & Wehmeyer, 2000). Further research is needed to explore the nature of the instruction on transition planning that students receive, particularly because (as shown in Table 1) 76% of students with intellectual disability and 71% of students with autism were reported to have received instruction focused on transition planning. The nature of this instruction must be further explored, particularly because researchers have found that teachers report being ill-prepared to promote student self-determination and involvement in the IEP meeting (Mason, Field, & Sawilowsky, 2004). In addition, with all of the demands on teacher time, barriers and facilitators of providing high quality instruction and opportunities for IEP and transition planning involvement need to be examined. Work is needed to shift from a teacher-directed IEP/transition planning model to a student-directed model (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998; Martin, Van Dycke, Greene, et al., 2006), as well as to explore ways that such content can be merged with an academic curriculum (Johnson & Sharpe, 2000).
It is also critical to effective transition planning that students and their families have access to a diverse team to identify future supports and services and to develop a postschool vision (Noonan, Morningstar, & Erickson, 2008). However, as shown in Table 3, with the exception of the student and his or her family, the only other active participants in transition planning identified for over half of students were school-based personnel (e.g., special education teacher, school counselor, school administrator). In addition, students with intellectual disability or autism were significantly less likely to have the involvement of a general education academic teacher. Given the focus on access to the general education curriculum for all students (Wehmeyer, Lance, & Bashinski, 2002), the lack of general education input is troubling. Research has suggested that special education teachers do not perceive access to be as important for students with more severe disabilities (Agran, Alper, & Wehmeyer, 2002); the contributors to these perceptions need to be further examined, and strategies for increasing the participation of general educators in transition planning for students with intellectual disability or autism explored. The most common nonschool participants were vocational rehabilitation counselors. Students with intellectual disability were more likely than students with other disabilities to have a vocational rehabilitation counselor present, and students with intellectual disability or autism were more likely to have staff of some other outside agency present. However, only 23% of students with intellectual disability had an actively involved vocational rehabilitation counselor, and only 15% to 16% of students with intellectual disability or autism in our nation had active participation from another outside agency. Successful collaborative partnerships among school professionals and essential adult service providers to create postschool supports cannot exist unless active participation becomes a reality (Johnson et al., 2002). Research examining expectations and involvement of transition team professionals as well as on facilitators of interagency collaboration is needed.
For almost all students, teachers reported that the special education teacher was an active participant; given the leadership role special education teachers take in the process, this is not surprising. Strangely, teachers also reported that only 88% to 91% of parents and guardians and 66% to 86% of students were active participants, with students who have intellectual disability or autism being significantly less likely to be active participants. Given that transition planning is about the student's future and that a recent analysis of the transition literature suggests a large effect of student-focused transition planning (Cobb & Alwell, 2009), it seems clear that all students and their families should be involved. Further, as Cobb and Alwell suggested, it is not just about student and family involvement, it is also about having peer advocates, friends, and mentors as active participants; however, the NLTS2 data suggest that is rarely the case. Although students with autism were more likely to have advocates present than were students with intellectual disability or other disabilities, this was still only for 5% of students. All students had very low participation from employers; representatives of postsecondary education; and other persons, which could include friends, peers, and other mentors. This low participation occurs despite the fact that the literature and the law emphasize the importance of using a team process to build and implement a vision for the child's future. Further research is needed to implement and evaluate strategies for promoting diverse participation in transition planning.
Finally, when teachers were asked to identify postschool service needs for students, congruent with the most commonly identified program goals for students with intellectual disability or autism, they noted that the largest numbers of students had identified needs related to vocational training, placement, or support. Students with autism (55%) were significantly more likely than those with intellectual disability (34%) to have needs in this area, perhaps related to the fact that they were more likely to have goals in more restrictive placements (e.g., sheltered employment). Further research is needed to identify the features specific to autism that leads IEP teams to be more likely to identify needs related to employment. With the exception of accommodations for postsecondary education, students with intellectual disability or autism tended to have higher needs for support in all domains. Those with autism had significantly higher needs identified related to speech or communication and behavioral intervention than did students with intellectual disability. This likely relates to the significant support needs demonstrated by students with labels like autism or intellectual disability; however, there is only limited research in which these differences have been systematically explored. Given the higher identified need, we found that it is reasonable that when looking at program contacts (see Table 4), we found that students with intellectual disability or autism had more contacts in most areas than did students with other disabilities. It is troubling, however, that those with intellectual disability were significantly less likely to have had contacts made with colleges, although this is congruent with other findings reported previously.
Despite the significant needs identified for students with intellectual disability or autism or the number of contacts made by schools, it is troubling that only 62% and 67% of families of students with intellectual disability or autism, respectively, had received information about services available after high school. It is important that parents have a comprehensive understanding as early as possible of services available for their children if successful transitions are to occur. In addition, for parents to work to develop a vision for the possibilities of their children's future, information needs to be shared about these possibilities (Blalock et al., 2003).
One possible reason for lack of knowledge sharing and service coordination could be that schools themselves are unaware of disability-specific resources that may be available in their community (Blalock et al., 2003). Teachers reported limited active participation of the persons/agencies that may address the service or program needs identified for students after high school. For example, although state vocational rehabilitation offices were contacted for 52% of students with autism, which is congruent with the number of students with autism who had needs identified in this area, only 19% of these students had a representative from vocational rehabilitation as an active participant on their transition planning team. As mentioned previously, further research is needed to promote interagency collaboration and the active involvement of persons outside of the educational system.
Thus far, we have discussed the findings from the School Program Survey. The Parent Telephone Interview also provides important information about how parents/guardians perceive transition planning. Unfortunately, the questions (and response options) on the School Program Survey and Parent Telephone Interview were not congruent, so direct comparisons of parent and teacher responses are not possible. However, by examining similar questions, we clearly found that that there may be differences in how parents and teachers perceive student and family involvement in transition planning. For example, parents tended to report that fewer youth had attended their last IEP meeting than had teachers. Teachers reported that 11% of students with intellectual disability had not attended or participated in the last transition planning meeting, whereas parents said that only 68% had attended the last meeting (meaning 32% had not). The discrepancies were similar for students with autism or other disabilities. Although it is possible that parents and teachers were thinking about different meetings, there seems to be a large discrepancy between parent and teacher perceptions of student attendance. This could be because some students may attend only part of the meeting (Martin, Van Dycke, Greene, et al., 2006). Further research is needed to understand the origins of this discrepancy and to promote greater student attendance and meaningful participation, particularly from a parent's perspective. Researchers need to examine how parents define meaningful youth participation to understand ways to actively, and appropriately, involve students.
In terms of parent attendance, parents of students with autism and those with other disabilities were more likely than parents of students with intellectual disability to indicate that they had attended the meetings. However, when asked whether an adult in the household or the youth had met with the teacher prior to the meeting to set postgraduation goals, a much lower number of parents reported having done so. In fact, only 30% of parents of students with autism reported having done this, the lowest of all students. This finding likely corresponds to the perception of 44% to 52% of parents that the school was primarily responsible for IEP goals. If parents and teachers are not meeting prior to the IEP meeting to discuss goals, it seems likely that the school is taking the primary role in developing the goals. Between 33% and 40% of parents in our nation indicated that they wanted to be more involved in IEP decisions, suggesting that a large number of the parents who were not involved in identifying goals wanted to play a more active role.
These data confirm that there remains a breakdown in the communication and collaboration within transition planning teams. Central tenets in IDEA (i.e., family involvement and transition planning being based on students' dreams, interests, and strengths) do not appear to be occurring for one-third to one-half of students and their families. It also appears that the majority of transition planning is occurring during the IEP team meeting, which is not conducive to building a collaborative, functional, trusting team (Turnbull & Turnbull, 2001; Turnbull, Turnbull, Erwin, & Soodak, 2006). Further research is needed on the multiple student, family, and system-level factors that influence family and student involvement and strategies to implement family–professional partnerships in transition planning in practice.
It is important to note, however, that between 59% and 66% of all parents did feel that they were involved “about the right amount” in transition planning and that all parents tended to rate the usefulness of the process of planning for life after high school between somewhat useful and very useful. Further research is needed to examine the factors that contribute to parents feeling like they are experiencing the right level of involvement in the transition process. This information could be used to guide the development and implementation of evidence-based practices that actively involve the diverse individuals that will support students postschool.
The NLTS2 provides useful information regarding the status of transition planning for students with disabilities across the nation. However, there are limitations that must be considered in interpreting the data. First, as mentioned above, it is problematic that direct comparisons cannot be made between teacher and parent perceptions. Given that questions about the same topics were included in both data sets, it would have been useful to examine whether there were significant differences on ratings of student participation and involvement. Further, NLTS2 is a broad study, addressing all aspects of students educational programs. Thus, the included questions are broad, rather than going in-depth into one area. Therefore, we only get a picture of the overall status of the implementation of best practices. However, the results do provide indicators for future, more detailed analyses.
The transition requirements set forth by IDEA charge transition planning teams with ensuring that transition planning is a results-oriented process that focuses on improving academic and functional achievement to facilitate movement from school to postschool activities. Student and family involvement as well as active involvement from school and adult services and supports must continue to be at the forefront of the transition planning process. Lack of active participation/involvement from these core stakeholders will not lead to the intended outcomes of the transition mandates: improved postschool outcomes for all students with disabilities. In addition, the IEP/transition planning process must be understood by all team members. The absence of linkages between transition goals and students' course of study suggests that schools are offering dated models (one-size fits all) that do not promote individualized instruction for students that allow them to make progress toward their dreams for their future (Cooney, 2002; Trainor, Lindstrom, Simon-Burroughs, Martin, & Sorrells, 2008). Finally, the higher level of support needs identified postschool for students with autism or intellectual disability, in many cases, leads to increased contacts with providers who can address these needs. However, there are ongoing challenges with stereotypes and low expectations related to the degree to which students with autism or intellectual disability can access integrated environments postschool and the appropriateness of goals that will facilitate access to postsecondary education, competitive employment, and community integration.
Editor-in-charge: Steven J. Taylor
Karrie Shogren, PhD (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org), Assistant Professor, Department of Special Education, 1310 S. 6th St., Champaign, IL 61820. Anthony Plotner, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Studies, Wardlaw College 235c, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 61801.