Planning the transition to adulthood: Life with disabilities after high school.

If your child has a disability, you may be wondering how to get them ready for the transition to adulthood. Here are the tools you need.

A young man with a backpack over one shoulder and books in his arms.

Getting your child ready for adulthood is hard. If your child has a disability, it may be a little more complicated.

If you’re caring for a teen with a disability, it can be overwhelming to think about their transition to adult life. There are many ways to prepare during high school through their IEP and transition planning. You also might need to consider applying for benefits and learn about the options for guardianship or other support. It can be hard to picture what their life will look like without the services and support that the school system provides.

We’re here to help you understand what to do and when to do it, and to give you the tools to help your child grow into an adult who can live their best possible life.

Step-By-Step Guides

How do I support my teen with a disability in making the transition to adulthood?

To get started, read more about each of the steps your teen may need to take for a successful transition. We’ll walk you through transition planning, testing and assessments for students with disabilities, and the different paths they can take to get ready for what comes next.

We’ll also tell you what you need to know and do before your child turns 18 and how you can prepare your child to be their own best advocate.

Terms to Know

Understanding the Language of Transition to Adulthood

The transition process is full of confusing terms and acronyms. Our Special Education Glossary defines the most common terms. Check out our easy text and video definitions covering everything from Accommodations to Vocational Programs.

Read our Special Education GlossaryLea nuestro Glosario de Educación Especial
  1. Assessments

    Tests given to all students to check their progress in school. Students with disabilities may need accommodations for these tests, which should be written in the IEP or 504 Plan. Certain students may need alternate assessments, depending on their disability. Your state’s grade level performance assessments may have different names, like MCAS in Massachusetts, or LEAP 2025 in Louisiana. More about assessments in special education or about assessments for high school students.

  2. Individual Graduation Plan (IGP)

    A plan that describes a student’s path through high school. It includes what courses they will take and how the teachers will assess their performance. The IEP team will work together to create an IGP that fits the student’s goals. More about the IGP.

  3. Transition Plan

    A detailed plan to help a child with a disability meet their goals for after high school. For all students with an IEP, the Transition Plan should be written by the team (including parents or guardians and the student) by age 14-16. More about transition planning.

Adult Transition Timeline

A timeline for your teen’s transition to adulthood

If your teen has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), they will start a formal transition process with the school system when they are 14-16. This will help them get ready for life after high school.

In the transition process, you and your child will identify their goals for after high school. The school will identify what kind of support they will need to get there. As their parent or caregiver, you will be with them every step of the way.

Whether your child’s next step is college, a job or job training, or supported living, this timeline will walk you through each step from middle school until they finish high school.

  1. Middle school and beyond

    This is the time to start talking with your child about what they want to do after high school. Does the IEP support their goals? What does their pathway to graduation look like? Here’s how to get started.

  2. Early High School: ages 14-16

    Now is the time to start the official transition planning process. The IEP team will begin transition assessments and job preparation activities with your teen. What kind of support do they need to reach their goals? Here’s how to make your plan.

  3. Late high school: ages 17 until high school is complete

    This is where the transition gets real. It’s time to prepare for the transfer of rights when your child turns 18. They will also start to connect to adult service agencies and begin applying to college or training for work. Here’s what you need to know.

  4. Beyond high school: ages 19-22+

    Your student may still be finishing high school. It’s time to secure adult support services and resources, including supported housing, if needed. Here’s what to do.

Parent and professional perspectives on one of the biggest transitions your child will make. 

Our blogs, videos, and podcasts offer a parent perspective on the joys, challenges, and work of helping our children transition to adulthood.

Our short videos offer quick tutorials from educators and providers on how to help your child navigate everything from college disability services to learning how to manage an apartment.

Families & Stories

Families and Stories: Getting teens ready to make the transition to adulthood

In these short videos, young adults with disabilities, along with their parents, share tips that have helped them prepare for adult life.

Hear from teens about learning skills for independent living, training for jobs, and becoming their own advocates in college and in the community. Hear from parents and caregivers about their successes and fears, and what advice they would give to other families navigating this transition.

Mother (white woman) and son (white child) standing side by side smiling

Tanja & Andy

Transitioning into adulthood can be intimidating for any family. Adding a disability to the mix can make things even more daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Tanja made sure she prepared her autistic son, Andy, for life on his own after college.
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Johnny & Jonathan

Transitioning into adulthood can be a daunting experience, especially for those with disabilities. Jonathan’s parents took advantage of his father’s role at a local community college and enrolled their son as a part-time student to continue their journey to prepare him for life after high school.
Watch the video
Black woman(mom) sitting next to her black daughter smiling.

Kisha and Kirsten

Becoming a 19 year old single parent of a child with a disability was a challenge that Kisha was not prepared for, but she quickly adapted to support her daughter’s needs. In this Families and Stories interview, Kisha emphasizes the importance of taking the time to learn to effectively communicate with medical professionals and balancing boundaries with family to create a healthy environment for her daughter Kirsten.
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Father (white man) and daughter (white woman) smiling with daughter’s hand on father’s chest

Rob & Schuyler

Have you heard of Polymicrogyria (PMG)? Schuyler was diagnosed with the disorder at birth. PMG is a condition characterized by abnormal development of the brain before birth and affects Schuyler’s speech, learning ability, and can cause seizures. While schools are required to provide accommodations for those with disabilities, the real world can be slow to get on board.
Watch the video

Frequently Asked Questions about the transition to adulthood

Preparing for your child's transition from school-based services to adulthood can be tough. It's okay to have questions! Here are answers to a few of the ones we hear the most.

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If your child wants to go to work after high school, their IEP and transition plan should include their employment goals and the support they need to meet them. During high school, they can get job readiness training, learn specific job skills and explore different career paths. They can also work with vocational programs and get training through internships both during and after high school.

The best way to teach your teen to advocate for themselves is to make sure they are as involved as possible in their transition process. This includes IEP meetings, goal-setting, transition planning, and – of course – learning from you. Get some tools for teaching self-advocacy.

If your child has significant disabilities, it’s important to think about benefits, services, and help at home or other supported housing once they leave high school. This may include Social Security, Medicaid, guardianship, and state agencies that support adults with disabilities.

If your child is planning to go to college, you should make sure that their IEP and transition plan include their goals and the support they need to get there. You’ll also want to work together on their social skills, study skills, and self-advocacy skills. And it’s worth learning how colleges can support students with disabilities once they get there.

Transition for teens with disabilities means the process of moving from school-based services to life after school. Students with an IEP can get services from the school system until they turn 22 or graduate, whichever comes first. The transition planning process should start by the time they turn 16, though often it begins earlier.

When your child turns 18, you can no longer make legal and medical decisions for them. If they will need decision-making support, you can explore options like guardianship, supported decision-making, and health care proxies. They may also need to re-apply as adults for benefits like SSI and Medicaid, even if they are already getting them. Here’s how to prepare for the transfer of rights at age 18.

Transition assessments are designed to identify your child’s career interests, job readiness skills, strengths, and areas where they need more support. These usually include formal assessments like aptitude tests or career interest surveys, and conversations with your student. In some cases they may assess your child’s skills for a specific job or career.