Theories of Transition Planning For Special Education Students

What is Transition?

Transition is a period in time when change occurs. Transition relates to movement from one situation to another. The actual act of transition planning is a set of activities that assist in preparing a special education student for transition to take place.

Theories of transition in special education offer a framework in which the transition process can be studied. The common traits that all transitions have in common are:

  • disconnection from previous social connections and supports,
  • absence of familiar reference points (objects or persons),
  • new needs and/or the inability to meet old needs in accustomed ways,

Transition starts as early as three years for toddlers. An individual family Service Plan (IFSP) is developed to smooth the movement of these young children from the early intervention services to any number of other settings such as special education, early childhood or preschool.

The law mandates another transition when special needs students are 16 years old and are preparing to leave high school. It requires that the individualized education plan (IEP) include a statement of needed services.

Guiding Themes

Some themes should guide the transition process for all special education youth. The following themes should reflect the best and promising practices.

  • Transition should start at an early age like preschool.
  • Transition planning should be comprehensive I.e beyond just employment.
  • The needs assessment should capitalize on the strength of the student.
  • Students should always participate.
  • Family members should also participate.
  • The transition planners should take into account cultural, gender issues.
  • Timing is essential to ensure successful transition.

Planning Process

This involves comprehensive assessment. The general area that the needs assessment should focus on are;

  • Daily Living
  • Employment
  • Financial and income management
  • Health
  • Independent living
  • Leisure and recreation
  • Postsecondary education
  • Relationships and social skills
  • Transportation and mobility
  • Vocational training
  • community participation

Once a needs assessment is conducted, the results should lead to the development of transition goals. There are two types of goals in transition, there is instructional that focuses on knowledge and skills and should be included in an IEP and there is also another goal that should link to needed services and supports.

A thorough needs assessment will lead to the development of useful present levels of performance. Once a student’s current level of performance is determined . The transition team should focus on meeting the student’s goals, this can be achieved by formal and or informal assessment. An example would be a student who wants to drive once they are adults, one of the things the team should do is help the student get a driver’s license and pass the driving tests.

The transition team should also assess frequently how the student is fairing on their goals and also determine if something needs to be modified or accommodations need to be provided.

One thing to remember in transition is that the process has to produce results. To be able to get a results oriented process a formal transition plan is developed beginning no later than when the child turns 16 or younger if determined by the IEP team and revised annually throughout high school, as the student nears graduation, adult services agencies may join the IEP team to help provide a smooth transition from high school supports to adult life supports.


  • Bos, Candace S. and Vaughn, Sharon. Strategies for Teaching Students with Learning and Behavior Problems. (Sixth Edition) Allyn & Bacon (2005)

This post is part of the series: Transitional Planning

Transition Planning for Special Needs Students
  1. Diverse Transition Planning Theories
  2. Life After High School for Students With Disabilities
  3. Person Centered Transition Planning for Disabled Students
  4. Special Education Transition Planning Using a Sample Plan