It is our mission that all students who graduate from Milestones have the necessary life skills to thrive in the world of post-secondary education, independent living and employment. All students will walk away with a solid resume complete with real life experience of employment opportunities that is transferable to the workforce. In addition, any student who would like to attend college is prepared by taking college courses while still a student at Milestones.
Transitioning From High School to Adulthood
Alex Smith-Michaels, founder of Milestones Day School
Making the transition from high school to adulthood can be both enormously exciting and stressful for all students. The stress may be magnified for students with Asperger’s syndrome as their maturation level, ability to tolerate or accept help, and their social skill/perspective taking, executive functioning and meta cognitive abilities (i.e., reflecting upon thinking/introspection) may lag behind peers, which may also have an impact upon choices or decisions the student makes.
Conversely, people entering adulthood with Asperger’s syndrome also brings many gifts and has the potential to be extremely successful with the right transitional supports. Fortunately, Massachusetts is beginning to understand what a pinnacle time this is for our students and is now dedicating resources to this transitional period. In addition, many colleges now offer academic and social services specifically for students with Asperger’s syndrome. While many colleges have seen the benefits in enrolling students with Asperger’s, most places of employment have not yet come to this conclusion. Employment settings often continue to remain competitive and not as “disability-friendly” as would be ideal. While we work to change society’s attitude toward people with disabilities as a very capable population, for now our students must learn to live and thrive within society’s current norms.
WHAT IS MILESTONES DAY SCHOOL’S TRANSITION TO ADULTHOOD
Starting at age 14, Milestones Day School enrolls all students in our Transition to Adulthood Program (TAP) where in collaboration with the family’s goals students learn transitional skills required to succeed in life post-high school. In this program, along with their traditional academic subjects, students take classes specifically on transitioning to adulthood and try on different careers by participating in internships at meaningful employment sites in a safe environment. They also have the opportunity to attend college while in high school by enrolling in our college-partner program where, with the support of our staff, students take classes at both college and high school starting in 12th grade and participate in special study skills for college classes. By practicing work and college skills prior to leaving high school, Milestones staff can help students determine any additional skills they will need to address or head off any pitfalls that may not be apparent in a high school environment alone. Having these types of experiences can greatly influence post-high school success.
The success Milestones has with students is due to the backwards design methodology employed. Backwards design asks students the question, “What do I want for my future?” It starts with the ending question of where does the student want to be post high school and plans backwards from there. This method serves to plans for and achieve student’s transition goals. To “begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination…It means to know where you are going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction” (Covey, DATE). This model can be employed with any student in any school system.
IMPORTANT QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ANSWERED
When using a backwards design model, the following questions may be used as a guide for planning the remainder of high school and setting the student up to achieve his/her goals. Many of the questions below are the same questions all students must ponder. The difference for students with disabilities is that planning for success may take more intentionality and direction, but is entirely possible.
• What are my post graduation desires (right away do I want to attend college, trade school, or enter the work force) that will achieve the career and lifestyle I want to have? It is important to have a focus, although for many students, with a disability or not, the focus may change over the years.
• What are my strengths and personality type? Does this match the career and lifestyle that I desire?
• What are my career interests and aptitude, and do they match? One may have a strong interest in a specific career, but little aptitude. Conversely, one may have a strong aptitude but little interest — interest can foster aptitude, but rarely does aptitude foster interest. Also, do I know the social appropriateness of getting a job (i.e, what to say/not to say during an interview, following up, accepting or declining a job offer, etc.)
• What type of living arrangements do I desire (live at home, shared apartment, living alone, etc.) If I want to live independently or with minimal support what types of skills do I need that I don’t have now?
• How is my knowledge and application of safety skills (mediation management, medical issues, understanding of strangers and danger, how not to be taken advantage of and consumerism)?
• What life skills do I need to learn (banking, mail systems, concept of time, directions, knowing what to do if you make a mistake, waiting and patience, phone skills, nutrition, cooking, operating home appliances, filling out medical forms, transportation, and hygiene)?
• What training in travel skills have I had? How will I get to work or school?
• Do I know how to structure free time and have activities that I enjoy doing and can initiate independently? Do I desire and have a balance between solitary activities and activities with friends?
• Do I have appropriate social judgment?
• Do I want to experience sexuality and dating (nuances of dating such as when someone expresses interest in you or how to express interest in others, what is expected behavior on a date, appropriate ways to handle rejection, knowing what is appropriate behavior when talking about sex and dating, and understanding STDs and pregnancy prevention).
• How do I understand my diagnosis, and how do I share this information and with whom? How can I advocate for my needs?
• What type of access to services do I need, if any, and what would I be eligible for?
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TREATMENT PLANNING
To answer the above questions, below is a sample timeline.
Step one (8th grade): When students turn 14 within the IEP year, a transition plan should be created by the student, his/her family, and the school staff. This transition planning should begin to look at the student’s post-high school goals and questions above outlining what specific steps s/he will need to achieve them (the backwards design model). Based upon these goals, a preliminary transition plan is created. Keep in mind that many 14-year-olds do not have answers to the above questions. The 14-year-old transition plan should be broad.
Step two (between 8-9th grades): A comprehensive transition assessment is conducted. This assessment should look at the above skills for example: functional academic assessment, work place social judgment assessment, vocational interest assessment, vocational aptitude assessment, functional life skills assessment, etc. Many of these tests should be repeated in 3 years. All of these skills should be assessed through formal testing, observations, interviews, and questionnaires that parents, student, and teachers fill out – it is important to have all three perspectives. In addition, it’s important to start to identify what the family’s needs are for transition. If students are not proficient at the above safety and independent living skill questions above, students should also begin taking courses on functional living skills; these courses should have peers who are matched with similar challenges and intellect.
Step three (starting between grades 10-11) students should begin work experiences either in the form of a part time job or internship. The Team needs to determine the level of support the student’s first work experience should have. Some students benefit from a 1:1 job coach whereas others need minimal or no support. In addition, if the student would like to attend college or trade school, investigations should occur now (see what type of disability support the college/trade school has to offer).
Step Four (between ages 18-22) If the student is continuing on in high school, Academics should focus on functional, independently living skills and the majority of the day should be spent either in dual enrollment (at college) and/or work place skills.
- Milestones Transitions Program: For more information about transitions goals, parents as their child’s quarterback, and a sample transition plan, please visit http://advancingmilestones.com
- Mass Government: When you Turn 18 in Massachusetts: http://www.mass.gov/ ago/consumer-resources/your-rights/18/
- AANE Transitions Guide: http://transitionresourceguide.weebly.com/
- Autism Speaks: Transitioning toolkit: http://www.autismspeaks.org/family-
- National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: http://www.ncset.org/
- Office for Civil Rights: Preparing for postsecondary education: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html
- NICHCY: Transition goals in the IEP http://nichcy.org/schoolage/transitionadult/goals
- National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability: guide for individual learning plans: http://www.ncset.org