I recently ran across this excellent article from Autism Speaks about helping children with autistism deal with potential dating and relationship pitfalls. It is both a blessing and a curse that the issues our children face become more complex as our children get older. And the IDEA recognizes that the school district will not always be involved in a child’s life.
That’s why one component of an IEP is a transition plan to address what will happen when the child is no longer in school. Starting in the IEP to be in place when the child turns 16, the plan needs to include (a) goals related to post-secondary education, employment, and / or living skills, and (b) services to be provided to help the student reach those goals.1
The most important point to make about this statutory requirement is what it does not require. Specifically, nothing in the statute prohibits transition planning services before a student turns 16. Some children have severe impairments and need to learn multiple life skills, such as taking the bus, cooking, cleaning, or other independent living skill. It might take a year to teach just one skill. If the school district waits until the child is 16 to start teaching the skills, there might not be enough time to teach all the skills the child needs before the child ages out of public schools. In those circumstances, the school district is obligated to start transition planning earlier than the statutory minimum at age 16.
But what made me think of transition planning after reading the relationship blog post was uncomfortable topic of relationships and sex. As children get older ang go through puberty, decisions about sex will inevitably become part of their life. We would like all children to make the appropriate choices, but it is an uncomfortable fact that many children with special needs do not always have the capacity to think through all the implications of a particular decision. And this shortfall will continue even after the child is old enough to be an adult under the law.
It would be awful if others took advantage of a special needs person’s poor decision-making – even if the consent was legally given, the decision to give consent could be poorly reasoned or pressured by others. Worse, it would be a tragedy if a person’s lack of understanding led them to do or appear to do something that violated the law. For example, some people with special needs might seek a partner with similar cognitive capacity, yet the typically developed person with that capacity is not age appropriate.
For that reason, transition planning needs to consider all the future life skills a person will need after leaving the public schools. If a student is not able to understand and apply the information from a tradition sex education class, then the school district is obligated to provide the information in a way that the child will understand.2 Otherwise, a school district fails its obligation to prepare the students under its care for life after schooling.
1 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(VII).
2See David D. v. Dartmouth School Committee, 775 F.2d 411 (1st Cir. 1985), Mohawk Trail Regional School Dist. v. Shaun D., 35 F.Supp.2d 34 (D. Mass 1999).
I will be speaking at the SPECTRUM parent support group monthly meeting on Thursday, October 3 at 6:30 pm.
Have your own event for children with special needs? Submit it here for inclusion in future events lists.