Building a Foundation: Zac’s Transition to Post-Secondary Education
Juli Gallup, AT/TBI Advocate
My son, Zac, has ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome. The hidden nature of his disabilities has been the greatest challenge for our family as we prepare to help Zac transition from high school to adult life. Zac works with a number of people to understand his disabilities, the impact they have, and to develop skills to work around them.
Through his hard work, he has made his disabilities less visible in many ways. It has been great to watch him grow and become more comfortable with other people and his relationships with them. On the other hand, it has led to questions about whether he really has a disability and made it more difficult to get the supports he needs to be successful in academics.
I started working on transition on my own Zac’s freshman year in high school. While the school acknowledged his disabilities, they would not make him eligible for services under special education and an IEP. Transition planning was up to me. I began the process of researching affordable college programs and resources for students with Asperger’s and ADHD. His sophomore year, we started visiting colleges and universities and started talking about what he thought he would need to be successful in college and personal growth—these have made a strong foundation for his success.
In 11th grade, Zac had his first IEP. The school, once again, dropped the ball in following through with his IEP until the last twelve weeks of the school year. At the end of 11th grade, we were able to work out an appropriate IEP and compensatory education services to compensate for the school’s failure.
Now, in his senior year of high school, Zac is finally getting the resources outlined in his IEP. How did we make this happen?
Knowledge Makes Me a Better Advocate
My knowledge base about Zac’s disabilities, special education law, and community-based resources has been important in successfully advocating in Zac’s transition process. It has helped me stay more focused in meetings and more deliberate in the steps I have followed while working with the school system. At each meeting, I concentrated on building supports around Zac to help him work towards life after high school.
Involving Zac in Each Part of the Process was Crucial
Zac attended his freshman year IEP meeting against his will. By his sophomore year, he was beginning to become more involved in the meeting and now he can run his own meetings. School staff has complimented him for being a strong self-advocate!
When we started making college visits his sophomore year, he complained that it wasn’t on his “radar.” I told him that he couldn’t afford for it not to be on mine. We have visited a variety of schools and programs over the course of the last two and a half years and his interest has grown with each visit. He thanked me this summer for pushing him to think about where to go to college because he wouldn’t have thought of it until halfway through his Senior year, which he realized would have been too late. By visiting a variety of programs, Zac has been able to explore what he wants to do and what he needs to be successful in college.
As parents, we have limited Zac’s options somewhat, but he has been included in the process of determining the three main criteria: quality of disability services and other disability related programs, the size of the school, and affordability. It has been my feeling that not only does he need a school that will set him up for success, but he has to want to be there, too.
Persistence is Key to Transition
Zac’s first support team meeting at the school was in seventh grade and we have met several times a year ever since to discuss his eligibility for accommodations under 504 and IDEA. After each no, our family pursued other resources for supports and services to compensate for what the school failed to provide. Yet, we still kept coming back to the table asking the school to fulfill their responsibility. We also invited the professionals working with Zac to every meeting, so that Zac would have additional support.
I know there had to be times the school wished we would just go away, but persistence paid off and the help Zac has received, albeit late in the game, will be invaluable to his success in college.
We have also seen a shift in the school, which we hope will benefit other students that attend Zac’s school. The attitude regarding accommodations and the school’s legal obligation to provide them has changed for the better.
It has been exciting exploring with my son what programs are available for students with disabilities. The school staff had told us repeatedly that he would not receive the same accommodations at college. To the contrary, it seems that services are going to be much easier to access (and more generous) than they have been in the public school system. We have found that some schools offer programs specifically for students with Asperger’s and other disabilities. In fact, there are a lot more options than one would expect.
After much thought about what he wants and needs from a college, Zac has chosen a private university that has support services for their student body and extensive supports through their disability services program, including a peer-mentoring program. We are currently in the process of working with the disability services office so that his accommodations are good to go when he starts classes in the fall.
With Zac a couple of months away from graduating high school, my time as his primary advocate is ending. Transition—this change or passage—is not only for our kids. Our roles as parents change as well. I am comforted by the knowledge that Zac has strong self-advocacy skills to ask for help when needed. We have both learned that there is no need to fight alone. It’s important to find the resources he needs and to believe in his dreams and ability to be successful! In that regard, I will always be his strongest advocate and his biggest fan.
For more transition resources and information, click here.