University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities




Youth Transition Area of Emphasis

Within the Youth Transition Area of Emphasis, Waisman Center projects are designed to support youth with disabilities to participate in a wide variety of opportunities and activities that prepare them for life after high school.

According to the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, the term "transition services" means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that:

  • Is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the childís movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment); continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation;
  • Is based on the individual childís needs, taking into account the childís strengths, preferences, and interests; and
  • Includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.

[34 CFR 300.43 (a)] [20 U.S.C. 1401(34)]

To that end, Waisman Centerís transition projects are identifying effective and feasible approaches for supporting families, school staff, and the larger community in creating meaningful opportunities and activities with appropriate supports for and with youth with disabilities, with a focus on disseminating practical strategies and solutions.

Challenges to Youth Transition:

Lack of Opportunity

Many individuals with significant disabilities are not able to access employment and the necessary job supports when they leave school. One piece of the employment challenge starts very early, with family, community, and school expectations that may not envision children with significant disabilities in the workforce or as active members of their communities. Children and youth with disabilities often experience limited involvement in activities, organizations, and life experiences compared with their non-disabled peers, resulting in diminished skills and lower community/employer expectations. Access to general education coursework for students with significant disabilities at the secondary and post secondary level continues to be limited. Very few genuine leadership opportunities for youth with disabilities exist at the local, state, or national levels.

Inappropriate and/or Insufficient Supports

Funding available for services, as well as long waiting lists in the adult system, have contribute to the lack of success for many youth with disabilities in transition. In addition, the common practice of relying heavily on individually-assigned adult support in schools and as job coaches in employment settings may fail to promote independence, self-determination, skill acquisition, and relationships with peers and co-workers.

Personnel Training

Paraprofessionals--who often provide the majority of support to students with the most complex support needs--often receive limited initial and ongoing training. Most teacher preparation programs provide minimal coursework on services and supports for students with complex disabilities and limited or no coursework specific to providing education and supports to students in transition. General educators receive limited professional development and training on how to include and involve students with significant disabilities in general education classes.

In order to address the youth transition area of emphasis, the Waisman Center is currently involved in the following activities:

Direct Service to Providers, Families, and Individuals with Disabilities

Information and assistance

Within the Waisman Resource Center, free and confidential information and assistance are provided to individuals, families, and providers about all aspects of youth transition.

Pre-service Training

Student project staff

Each semester, between 10 and 15 undergraduate and graduate students representing multiple disciplines contribute to and learn from project initiatives. Students assist in research design, materials development, data entry, data analysis, and many other aspects of project work, while strengthening their understanding of the youth transition field.

Community Training and Technical Assistance

The Health Care Training Guide, Checklist, and Presentations provide information and resources for youth with disabilities, their families, schools, and other community organizations whose goal is to include health care information in their training for youth. Content helps youth learn to manage their own health care and make sound health and safety decisions. Training using these materials also is embedded in statewide parent leadership training and is offered through Children with Special Health Care Needs Regional Centers.

The Natural Supports Project provides local, statewide, and national training and technical assistance related to developing natural supports programs and strategies in schools and communities, developing peer support strategies in general education classrooms, fostering youth leadership in students with disabilities, and overall transition training.

Research and Evaluation

Career Development and Early Work Experiences

Project Summer was a IES funded research development project examining strategies for supporting youth with significant disabilities in early work experiences, particularly during summer. It identified and evaluated tools and strategies for more fully engaging youth with significant disabilities, school staff, families, and community members in supporting youth to find and keep employment. More information, tools developed by the project, and resources are available at the Project Summer website.

Peer Supports

This series of studies addresses the social and academic benefits of involving peers in supporting youth with significant disabilities within inclusive settings, rather than relying exclusively on paraprofessionals or other adults.

Youth Leadership

This study examines the experiences and recommendations of youth with disabilities concerning the skills, traits, experiences, opportunities, and supports they believe are important in developing leadership capacity. More information with tips and strategies is available at the Natural Supports website.

Extracurricular Involvement

The Natural Supports Project is examining strategies for supporting youth with significant disabilities to participate more fully and naturally in the life of their school and in the community. Training materials, strategies, and materials are available at the Natural Supports website.

Building School and Community Capacity

These efforts are focused on identifying and promoting strategies to engage school staff and community partners more fully in increasing school and community activities, as well as identifying the training needs that educators and paraprofessionals identify as most necessary to support students with significant disabilities. More information and materials are available at the Natural Supports website.


Last modified Monday, January 27th, 2014