From Middle School through High School

Planning for the Future

For many teenagers, high school begins their transition to adulthood. It is a time full of changes, and it is often the time when young people (with and without special needs) begin planning for their futures. For teens with special needs, high school might come with added social challenges, and far more difficult schoolwork. It is a great time to continue involvement with activities or hobbies they have already been into, and for trying new things, like volunteering in the community, working for the school paper or yearbook, joining the student council, joining social groups, and advocating for themselves and other students with special needs in their school. Teens with all types of challenges can get involved with school and community activities. Finding ways for those teens who may have physical, developmental, medical, social and/or sensory issues to be involved in activities (assisted or with accommodations), will help them to be confident and "find ways" for themselves in the future. No matter your child’s abilities or challenges, high school is a big step toward the future, full of new responsibilities and decisions, and for many youth it is the time to begin taking a more active role in self-care and in making decisions about one’s future.
As with previous transitions, you and your child will want to plan ahead, meeting with your student’s school team* before your child begins high school. Education issues during adolescence should be continually addressed, and the IEP/504/Health Care Plan should be updated as your student’s health, goals, or competencies change.
*"School team" may refer to the IEP, 504, Health plan, or shool accommodation team.

Planning for High School: Ages 10-14

The transition to high school begins long before your child enters high school. Many children are included in their own IEP or Health Care meetings from the time they are quite young. It is recommended that children’s involvement in and attendance at meetings begin by age 10, to allow him to gain familiarity with important topics and questions surrounding his health and education. By age 14 he should be included in as many meetings as possible. He’s likely to have crucial input and opinions about plans and discussions about his future. Before your child begins high school, meetings should include assessments of social skills, academic abilities, self-help and self-advocacy skills, recreation options, and if appropriate, the subject of sexuality. (See Social Opportunities, Recreation Activities, and Healthy Relationships.) Your child can help develop a plan to increase his independence at home and at school. When your child is 13 or 14, it’s a great idea to begin learning about and considering high school graduation requirements and diploma options (see below). You can form a plan based on your child’s individual needs that includes the necessary services and supports that will help him reach his high school goals.

Early High School: Ages 14-16

When your child begins high school it is essential to address graduation options with the IEP team on an individual basis. With your student’s school team, you’ll want to consider whether your student can participate in statewide assessments, the earning/awarding of course credits towards graduation, and the possible implications of earning a diploma or a certificate of completion.
In Utah, a student has three options for high school graduation. Depending on her goals and abilities, she can earn a basic high school diploma, an alternative completion diploma, or a certificate of completion. While a student is not locked into the option that the team sets as her goal, it is helpful for both parents and children to understand the differences and requirements for each option, and to establish a realistic goal for the future. The lists below show the exit document options and requirements for Utah's students. Check with your IEP/school team for any changes. [Utah Secondary School Completion & Diploma Rules]
Basic High School Diploma*
  • Student must successfully complete all state and district course requirements for graduation.
  • Student must pass all subtests of the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test (UBSCT).
Alternative Completion Diploma*
  • Student must successfully complete all state and district course requirements for graduation.
  • Student must provide documentation of at least three attempts to take and pass all subtests of the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test (UBSCT)**.
Certificate of Completion
  • Student has completed his/her senior year, is exiting the school system, and has not met all state or district requirements for a diploma.
  • Student may or may not have participated in the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test (UBSCT).
*Both the Basic High School Diploma and the Alternative Completion Diploma are considered “regular” high school diplomas.
**For a small percentage of students placed in special education, the IEP/school team may determine that participation in statewide assessment should be through Utah's Alternative Assessment (UAA). For these students, three attempts of the UBSCT are not required. In order to be eligible to take the UAA, the student must meet all of the requirements outlined in Utah's Special Education Graduation Guidelines (PDF Document 82 KB).
Each State has unique graduation requirements and diploma options. Several types of diplomas are offered across the country. To read more about diploma options in each state and find transition contacts for your state, go to: Diploma Options for Students with Disabilities (NCSET).

Points to Address in the High School IEP Meeting

By the time your student is 16, a plan for transitioning out of school and into adult lifemust be initiated as part of the IEP process. Whetheradulthood means college, vocational school, employment, or some other option this plan should focus on your student’s goals for post high-school life.
  • Identify classes and credits required to complete graduation and schedule classes and curriculum accordingly.
  • Consider driver education. See Transportation - Where's My Ride.
  • Identify job interests and abilities including activities such as career exploration, job sampling, and some job training. See Employment/Daytime Activities.
  • Begin to identify community services that provide job training and placement.
  • Consider summer employment or volunteer experience.
  • Prepare a job placement file with references and skills that have been acquired.
  • Begin applying to adult service agencies like State Services for People with Disabilities, Vocation Rehabilitation, and applicable independent living services. Some agencies may have long waiting lists.
  • Ask the school team about required examinations or competency tests for graduation, if applicable.

Late High School: Ages 16-22

As your student begins looking toward life beyond high school, together, you and your teen will want to begin contacting appropriate adult services programs. If he is planning to attend college, vocational, or technical school, it’s time to contact the schools he is considering, including contacting the disability services and programs at that school. If he is not planning to attend college, but is planning to live outside your home, you may want to research and contact various residential or independent living services(see Independent Living). Many high school students will leave behind recreational or leisure groups when they leave the school setting, so it’s a great idea to research community recreation before that time comes; advance research can ease the transition into a new part of the community. Likewise, many young adults will need to find new, adult medical services, and it’s important to have researched and contacted various medical services, physicians, therapists, or counselors ahead of time (See Adult Services and Healthy Relationships). Finally, if your student is curious about a particular career or job, he can consider contacting family or friends who work in that field who might be able to set him up with job training opportunities, or at least answer questions about a potential job.
Depending on the extent of disability, some students who are receiving special education services may remain in school until their 22nd birthday in order to develop skills, accomplish their transition goals, and research necessary services. Remember that your child,no matter what their abilities, becomes a legal adult at age 18.Before the age of 18, some parents will need to consider and research how to become their child’s legal guardian (See Guardianship/Estate Planning). Age 18 is also the age when your child may qualify for Social Security benefits based on her own assets. It’s important to learn about the changes that will occur with SSI before your child’s eighteenth birthday (See Health Insurance/Financial Aids).
College-bound students will need to take the ACT College Entrance Exam or SAT College Entrance Exam during their junior year. Both of these tests have accommodations for students who need them, but you will have to research and set these things up well ahead of time. Then, these students will need to complete college applications. Once a student has narrowed down her options, she will benefit from visiting her chosen school, and registering with the College Disability Center before the end of senior year (see To College).Your student’s school counselor might be helpful during the application process.

What Can You Expect from the Medical Home?

Your child’s primary care clinician can be helpful as your child builds independence and learns self-advocacy skills. The medical home will teach your youth about her health care needs and medications and, depending on your child’s needs and abilities, might encourage her to take a role in setting up her own appointments or ordering her own supplies. The medical home will help your youth update her medical history and immunizations records, and advise her on the transition into adult health care services, including recommending adult care providers (See Transition Self-Assessment (PDF Document 83 KB) and Family History (Word Document 110 KB) or Family History (PDF Document 20 KB) and Services Directory.) They will continue to answer questions for you and your youth about health and wellness, treatments, medications, and therapies. They can also discuss sexuality with your youth and refer her to appropriate resources depending on her development and disabilities.
Some medical homes will be more involved, helping assess your youth’s strengths, interests and goals, and referring him to various vocational trainings or other activities. If you have not addressed these things with your clinician or medical home coordinator and would like to, let them know you would benefit from assistance with this part of transition.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Transition Tips for Parents of Teens with Disabilities (PDF Document 476 KB)
This pamphlet, developed by Shriners Hospital for Children, provides information for parents on taking care of themselves, helping teens stay physically and emotionally healthy, addressing sexuality, helping teens succeed in school and work, teaching teens to manage their own health care and become more independent, and includes a list of other resources and websites.

Transition Tips for Teens with Disabilities (PDF Document 308 KB)
This pamphlet, developed by Shriners Hospital for Children, provides information for teens on staying physically and emotionally healthy, taking charge of their own health care, succeeding in school, preparing for work, getting ready for the future, and includes a list of other resources and websites.

Transition Tips for Parents of Young Adults with Disabilities (PDF Document 346 KB)
This pamphlet developed by Shriners Hospital for Children, also called Moving On, provides information for parents on letting go, assisting their young adults to become more independent, find health insurance, and transition to adult health care, as well as information on guardianship issues. It also offers a list of other resources and websites.

Transition Tips for Young Adults (PDF Document 348 KB)
This pamphlet developed by Shriners Hospital for Children, also called Moving On, provides information for young adults on moving to adult health care, paying for health care, preparing for the future, getting around in the community, and becoming more independent. It also offers a list of other resources and websites.

Utah Parent Center
A non-profit organization that provides training, information, referral, and assistance to parents of children and youth with all disabilities including physical, mental, hearing, vision, learning, behavioral, and emotional. Staff consists primarily of parents of children and youth with disabilities.

Center for Parent Information and Resources (DOE)
A large resource library related to children with disabilities. Parent Centers in every state provide training to parents of children with disabilities. Lists local conferences, support groups, advocacy tips, and suggestions for finding schools and other local services; Department of Education, Office of Special Education.

Utah State Office of Education
This site provides information about Utah schools, the school board, rules, regulations, and more.

State Education Contacts and Information
Contact the department of education in your state, or the adult ed, arts, child care, higher ed, humanities, libraries, PTA, special ed, tech-prep, vocational rehabilitation, vocational-technical, or other education office in your state.

Utah 2-1-1
A free information and referral line for health, human and community services. 2-1-1 provides information and referral on topics such as emergency food pantries, rental assistance, public health clinics, child care resources, support groups, legal aid, and a variety of nonprofit and governmental agencies. Call for quick answers. The online directory provides anytime access to the same information. Confidential and free.

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
Provides information about transition during high school and to opportunities after high school including jobs, vocational education, and college. Provides links to contacts in each state for 1) State Transition Contact, 2) Regional Resource Center Contact, 3) State Director of Special Education, 4) Part B Contact, and 5) State Director or Vocational Rehabilitation.


Disability Employment

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Health Insurance, Other

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Health Insurance/Funding, Transition

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Services for People with Disabilities

See all Services for People with Disabilities services providers (82) in our database.

Vocational Education

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For other services related to this condition, browse our Services categories or search our database.


Contributing Author: Gina Pola-Money - 1/2013
Reviewing Authors: Tina Persels - 12/2012
Alfred Romeo, RN, PhD - 11/2008
Content Last Updated: 2/2013