By Tricia Funk

Another year of possibilities awaits us as we begin a new school year. The anticipation of this time of year brings about much excitement, but also some reservations. As parents, we aim for our children to have a smooth transition to the next grade level and hope their teachers will see the unlimited amount of potential they possess. It is our desire to see the best outcome possible as we send our kids off on their new adventure. As independent young adults, we may be tasked with seeking out and finding our own solutions that will resource us to succeed in the post-secondary school or trade school setting. Transitioning to a new school year level can be full of unknowns for both parents and young independent adults, but we remain optimistic for a positive and seamless start to the new year.

Transitioning from one grade level to the next can be very challenging. Not just for our DCC children, but for us parents as well. While each new grade level presents new opportunities for our children with DCC, it also can be a difficult process to navigate. The uncertainties of whether or not our children will adapt to the change can evoke emotions. At times, we might find ourselves questioning if our child is even ready for the new change and if they aren’t ready, how will we get them there?

Getting our kids off to a positive start can begin with our awareness of where our son or daughter are currently performing in comparison to where they left off at the end of the previous school year. When a new school year begins, it’s important to meet our children where they are developmentally and socially. It’s important that the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) reflects that. We need to consider that our children might have developed new skills and interests since the end of the last school year that could potentially require adjustments to the current IEP. This is often the case for those children or young adults who are entering high school or adult programs. Changes can be substantial – even in a short period of time like the summer months.

As both a parent of a child with ACC and as a special education teacher, I have learned that the process of transitioning to a new grade level is fluid and needs to remain as such. One of the benefits of an IEP is that it can be revised and discussed throughout the school year. At any point, you have the privilege of calling an IEP meeting to discuss with the team some of the potential changes that may need to be addressed.

New grade levels lend themselves to new paths. For example, if your son or daughter is on an IEP and is entering high school, he or she is likely to have a Transition Plan. This plan will help make way for new skills to be developed for your child to reach their student-led post-secondary goals. It is critical to consider the various services offered on the Transition Plan to make sure it aligns with the current and future needs of your child. This is especially true as your child begins to look ahead to employment, continued education, and independent living. The entire Transition Plan should be set up according to your child’s long-term goals and should be well in place by the time he or she begins their high school journey.

If you have a child at the elementary or intermediate level, think about what new needs have come about since the end of the last school year. Consider the social challenges that surround your child at the new grade level. Does their IEP support those challenges? Check their IEPs and note whether new accommodations or modifications need to be added or adjusted. It is important that, as you see your child growing and developing, you identify areas of need that can be addressed in the current school setting. Even though the IEP year might not be completed, you still can discuss with the IEP team any additions or amendments that might be needed to better support your child right from the beginning of the school year; especially as this pertains to the school setting.

Keeping in mind the fluidity of the IEP can help ease some of the fears and concerns of having your child transition to the next grade level. Remember, you are the parent, and you know your child best. Use the transition period as an opportunity to channel new growth based on the developing needs of your child.

Stay vigilant as you work towards making the transition period seamless. Your awareness of what your child requires in the new setting will help forge new pathways as you look to continue to develop an IEP that reflects the needs of your son or daughter. Remember, transition periods for our children are good and the best way to ensure they remain positive is to determine that the IEP and Transition Plan reflect their current needs. Do not hesitate to discuss with your IEP team any changes that might need to be updated to better support your child in their new setting.

As an independent young adult with a DCC trying to navigate this stage of life, you are presented with many challenges of your own. Certainly, you want every opportunity to succeed in your college or vocational school journey. Much like you may have had in your elementary and high school years, colleges have resources to assist you in your transition to this new environment.

While schools may be somewhat different in how they accommodate students, typically it is common to find a disability services office or resource center that can assist a new student. Much like an IEP team, they can assess your strengths and weaknesses and develop strategies that enhance your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses. Learning what your accommodations are and using them when needed will help you to discover how to be academically successful.

Transitioning to a new school year as a parent of a DCC student or as an independent young adult does not have to be intimidating or overwhelming. With proper awareness and utilization of available support systems and a focus on what resources can best serve the individual student, they can not only succeed in the new school year but propel themselves to excel in education. A prepared and well-informed transition can be an opportunity for a smooth beginning and set the precedence for a great school year!