Parents' Guide to the Transition of Their Adult Child to College, Career, and Community

HEATH Resource Center
Parents’ Guide to the Transition of Their Adult Child to College, Career, and Community

This article will increase your knowledge and give you the tools to prepare you for your child’s transition from public school to postsecondary education and his or her emerging adulthood. 


  1. To understand how to prepare your child for college.
  2. To examine key items in planning for the transition of your young adult child from public school to college, career, and community.
  3. To know the differences between your roles, rights, and responsibilities as a parent of a child with disabilities in public school and postsecondary education.
  4. To know what laws protect your rights as a parent and what laws protect the rights of your adult child in the college setting.
  5. To formulate a plan for helping your child reach independence and emerge into adulthood.


Over the years you’ve watched your baby grow and learn, marking each milestone, if not in a memory book, then etched in your heart. Now he or she is ready to mark one of the greatest milestones yet — college and career. Perhaps your child is currently in high school preparing for that jubilant jaunt across the stage at graduation. Perhaps your child is emerging into adulthood attempting to sort out his or her future with all the possibilities that college, career, and an independent self-determined life in the community can bring. At either stage, these most certainly are exciting times for the both of you!

However, your child is not the only one transitioning. You are too! You are entering a new phase of your life, growing older, confronting your own future as your child prepares to launch into adulthood. Over the last 12 years you’ve mastered how to assure your child a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE), learned collaboration skills to write your child’s individual education plans (IEP), and seemingly memorized nearly every section of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004). Now as your child enters college and the adult service delivery systems, you leave behind the those mandated services found in IDEA for what may appear as a completely new world of “eligibility “and “waiting lists. You will hear many times, “There are no IEPs in college!” Gaining the knowledge and understanding of the civil rights laws, college systems, and adult support services will help make your child’s transition into adulthood smoother. This module addresses these important concepts for parents of high school students and college students. Here you will find answers to your many questions and resources to help you support your child as he or she emerges into adulthood and plans for college, career, and a life in the community. It will also provide you guidance for your transition into your new role and responsibilities as a parent of an adult with disabilities

Key Questions

Several questions are important as you think about your new role and responsibilities as a parent of an adult with disabilities. These questions will help develop strategies for communicating, supporting, and building positive relationships with your child and those in his or her adult world. These are:

  1. What is transition?
  2. What is my role in my child’s transition planning?
  3. What are measurable postsecondary goals?
  4. What are some of the ways to be involved in my child’s transition?
  5. What is the difference between high school and college?
  6. How do my roles change as my child moves from the high school to the college setting?
  7. What does research say about parental hovering in college?
  8. How am I going to fund my child’s college education?
  9. How can I be sure my child will not only achieve academically, but also be safe, warm, well feed, have fun, and stay healthy?
  10. What Is The Federal "Jeanne Clery Act”?
  11. What is the Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights?
  12. What information do I want to gain when my child and I tour college campuses?

What is transition?

Transition from school refers to the time your child leaves public school and enters the adult community to live and work. It is never too early to start thinking about your child's ability to function in the adult world. Planning for this time is important as transition presents important challenges and changes for both you and your child. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA)

  • Beginning no later than age 16 and updated annually thereafter, your child is educated not only for a future of employment and independent community living, but also with the prospect for continued, lifelong learning that are “results-oriented,” and outlined in terms that are measurable
  • The process is a purposeful, organized and outcome-oriented, designed to help your child move from school to employment and a quality adult life.
  • It is important to work with the schools to identify and foster as much independence, self-determination, self-advocacy, and success as possible for your child. [20 U.S.C. A, § 601, (d),(1), (A)]) Once your child is 16, or younger if appropriate, assure your child’s high school transition plan includes:
  • A statement of needed transition services that includes strategies/activities that will assist your child to prepare for postsecondary activities such as postsecondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, community participation, or whatever it is your child desires to do.

The statement of needed transition services based on the your child’s needs, taking into account his or her preferences and interests, and that include(O’Leary & Collison, 2007):

  • Instruction,
  • Related services,
  • Community experiences,
  • The development of employment,
  • Other post-school adult living objectives,

And, if appropriate:

  • Acquisition of daily living skills.
  • Functional vocational evaluation.

This plan will become part of your child's annually revised Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Your teen and the IEP team determines the most important activities/strategies to be addressed in any one given school year, then reviews the activities/strategies annually and refining them taking into account what has been accomplished, the current and projected future needs of your child, and emerging or changing preferences and interests.

Transition Services provide a coordinated set of activities for your teenage child with a disability that support results-oriented learning, and improve academic and functional achievement. The school district is your first contact for implementing any transition service. For your child to be successful as an adult after high school other agencies will share in the cost and services provided your child. Through a coordinated and collaborative partnership with school and community agencies, your child will begin to receive transition services by age 16 that should be:

  • Person-centered, and
  • A long-range plan for post high school adult life.

The IEP must:

  • Actively involve your child, your family and representatives from whatever post school services, supports or programs will be necessary in order for your child to be successful when he or she exits school.
  • Include an individual transition plan (ITP) that is a “coordinated” effort between the student, family, school, and the necessary post-school services supports, adult agencies, or programs.

Agencies that may collaborate with you, your child, and the school include, but are not limited to representatives of:

  • Community College or University Representative
  • County Mental Health Services
  • Department of Rehabilitation
  • Employment Development Department
  • Medicare • Regional Disability Support Centers
  • Regional Occupational Programs
  • Social Security Administration
  • Community or State Department of Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities
  • Disability Support Organizations (e.g., Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, The Arc, United Cerebral Palsy).

Remember the transition plan

  • Is a long-range plan for your child’s adult life
  • Is person-centered with direct input by your child
  • Is not to be completed in one year.
  • Is not completed only by school staff
  • Includes all the activities that will prepare your child to make his or her dreams for the future a reality.

Transitions in the Family are three distinct processes that affect your family and its well-being during transition. You may face greater challenges obtaining a smooth and natural transition through these three processes if your child has intellectual or developmental disabilities (Ferguson, Ferguson, & Jones, 1988).
These processes are:

  1. “Bureaucratic transition,” as described above includes the changing of agencies from the special education/school services to the adult support agencies and professionals. Representatives of the adult agencies or support groups may be involved throughout the entire adult life of your child. This is especially true if your child has an intellectual or developmental disability.
  2. “Family life transitions,” includes all changes and/or disruptions in established routines and accepted responsibilities. As your child transitions from high school the regular rhythm of the school year and its routine of catching the special buses, IEP meetings, parent-teacher conferences along with sports and other student activities disappear and may leave a void or out-of-synch pattern of life and routine.
  3. “Status transitions” refers to the changes in status of child to adult. Graduating from high school followed by the mixed emotions of leaving him or her off at college has traditionally been a milestone for families. It has become for some a symbol of a cultural and generational change. Along with the changes within your family status, your child takes on a new adult role as defined by your family’s culture or social community. For some that step is not easily made.

What is my role in my child’s transition planning?

Your role as a parent of a transitioning high school student is very important now. In fact, states must now record the percent of parents with a child receiving special education services who report that schools facilitated parent involvement as a means of improving services and results for children with disabilities.(20 U.S.C. 1416 (a)(3)(A)).

It is also important for you to understand that college is a radical change from high school. Supports and services you and your child have become accustomed to in public school will not be the same as in college. Your child will leave behind routines and supports structured to assure not only access but also success. In college, your child will face complicated academic and social environments without the benefit of constant reminders to take medication, finish homework, go to bed at a reasonable time, and attend classes whether or not he or she feels like it. From elementary through high school, your child had benefit of structured constant interaction from teachers and your hands-on help at home. Now your child will need to rely on the self-sufficiency and self-determination skills taught throughout his or her life to independently ask for support and accommodations, meet class assignment deadlines, become involved in campus social and academic life, and care for personal necessities.

Your roles as parent of a transitioning high school student include:

~ Encourage, guide, and mentor your child to be directly involvement in his or her IEP planning including leading the meeting.

This opportunity to use the skill set of self-determination will help your son/daughter advocate for needed accommodations in college or career. Remember when your child leaves high school you will take on the role as mentor for your child as he or she takes control of making life choices. Work with the teachers and therapists to identify skills you are able to reinforce at home, and which will foster greater independence for you and your child.

For the rest of this in-depth guide, click here

Posted on BrainLine November 17, 2009.

From the HEATH Resource Center, affiliated with The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

Comments (1)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

It is frightening as a parent when your adult child ventures off into college or community, but a 1,000 times more frightening when that adult child has a TBI and is over the age of 18. If you are their parent and you do not have legal guardianship over your own adult child, that adult child is basically on their own. If you fear they have difficulty making their own decisions, you need to talk to a lawyer and a social worker who can help you decide what is best. Good luck.