Transition planning has become an important part of the special education services offered to high school students with disabilities. Usually included in a student’s Individualized Education Plan when she reaches the age of 16, transition planning includes the student, her parents, teachers, and other school personnel and specialists. Person centered transition planning for students with disabilities takes planning for an individual’s future one step further. An ongoing problem-solving process, person centered planning can begin at any time to increase an individual’s control over her life.
Person centered planning is just what it sounds like – planning centered around the individual, or the focus person. In this type of planning, a group of people meets regularly to discuss the focus person’s goals and her vision of the future. The goal of the planning is to make that vision a reality. Members identify opportunities for the focus person to participate in her community, gain employment, develop social relationships, and live as independently as possible. Plans discussed and strategies implemented are directly based on the focus person’s desires, interests, and dreams.
Anyone who cares about the best interests of the focus person can be involved in person centered transition planning for students with disabilities. Group members should have a clear and shared appreciation of the focus person’s strengths, desires, and interests. The group may include parents or guardians, other family members, friends, and professionals, and should be led by a skilled facilitator. Addressing issues of employment, leisure activities, community participation, and independent living, the skilled facilitator should be neutral and unbiased. The facilitator leads the group through the process, records discussions and activities at all meetings, handles conflict, and makes sure each group member is participating equally.
Person centered planning should begin by developing the focus person’s personal history, including background, education, important life events, medical concerns, and intimate relationships. The focus person and her family will share most of this information in this initial meeting. Then, a description of the focus person’s quality of life is shared. Issues such as community participation, choices and rights, respect, and competence should be explored. The meeting should next address the focus person’s individual preferences and activities she enjoys doing. What she does not enjoy doing and does not prefer should also be discussed. This gathering and discussion of the individual’s personal history may take up to two hours and need to occur several days before the planning meeting. Between meetings, group members can think about what was learned and brainstorm possibilities.
In the planning meeting, group members should begin by reviewing the personal history and preferences and offering additional comments or observations. The discussion should next turn to the focus person’s future and ongoing conditions or events that may affect her life. Members need to identify obstacles and explore how to increase opportunities. Then, strategies should be identified through collaborative problem-solving to overcome barriers and obstacles. The action plan should begin by identifying what steps will be taken, by whom, and when they will be accomplished.
Keep in mind that person centered transition planning for students with disabilities takes time, commitment, and creativity. Planning is an ongoing process and group members should meet regularly to ensure the focus person’s quality of life. Members’ time and commitment will lead to a full, independent life.