Individual Transition Plan (ITP) 101
An Individual Transition Plan (ITP) is a document created as part of the IEP to prepare a student for life after high school. Planning for a student’s ITP is an important time in a student’s life — and an invaluable opportunity for parents to ask their child about their hopes and dreams for the future.
Exploring and mapping out the goals, programs, resources, and services a student is interested in can begin as early in their life as a family or child would like to do so. Legally, the school district is required to initiate formal transition planning no later than a student’s sixteenth birthday, but it’s a good idea to start the ITP process as early as eighth grade to ensure that all the necessary steps have been taken to make a child’s academic and career goals a reality.
There are many parts to an effective ITP, and preparing for them beforehand can help set a child up for greater success in the long run. To learn more, we spoke with special education advocate (and owner of Know IEPs) Dr. Sarah Pelangka, BCBA-D, and Richard L. Rosenberg, PhD, a board member of the California Transition Alliance who spent thirty-four years coordinating vocational and career support for students with disabilities in the Whittier Union High School District, and is now faculty at Cal State LA, Chapman University, and San Diego State University.
What is an ITP?
The ITP has two primary components:
1. Establish educational, residential, social, and recreational goals.
Goals are one of the most important topics the ITP will cover, and they should address the following areas:
Employment (such as supported employment or other community-based work training programs)
Just as school districts must provide the least restrictive environment, a transition plan should focus on helping a student live with as much independence and joy as possible. ITP goals should be measurable, created by or in collaboration with the student, and based on assessments of the student’s achievements and ongoing goals and needs related to education, job training, and life skills. Some students find it helpful to take online surveys to guide them as they determine their life goals and career aspirations; others may benefit from in-depth, one-on-one, person-centered planning with a college counselor, career coach, or disability specialist.
2. Establish an interagency linkage.
Interagency linkage is a key component in ensuring a seamless transition from school to adulthood.
The school should play the role of case manager in creating a collaborative team between the school and other government and public service organizations. Because agencies outside the school district will be responsible for providing the services a student will need after graduation, it’s important that representatives from these agencies are invited to and attend the IEP/ITP meeting. Some of the agencies that support students prior to and/or after graduation are the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), your local Regional Center, and college disability service programs. We’ll talk more about each of these below.
Start the ITP planning process early
It’s never too early to start thinking about your child’s future. Rosenberg emphasizes the importance of beginning the transition plan as early as possible. “Many of us advocate that it should begin at birth, but we’ll accept middle school as a starting point,” he says. “Because if parents and teachers don’t start talking about the transition plan early on, what are they preparing a student for? What sort of environment, what sort of creativity? What kind of opportunities? This preparation can start at preschool and beyond.”
Dr. Pelangka agrees. “Particularly for students with IEPs, we shouldn’t assume their path without their input; rather, we should include them and their interests and strengths very early on to ensure they are accessing what is needed to support that path.”
There are a few simple reasons why planning should begin no later than middle school. The primary reason is to discuss whether a student plans to work toward a high school diploma or a certificate of completion — a decision that should always be made with a focus on a child’s long-term goals and available supports. To read much more about the implications and choices involved in pursuing a diploma or a certificate, see our article, Building a Goal-Oriented Future: Earning a Diploma or a Certificate of Completion.
If your child receives accommodations and/or modifications to help them access their grade-level curriculum, Dr. Pelangka says that these discussions are especially important ones to have with your IEP team. You can read much more about the differences between accommodations and modifications — and why they’re so important — in our article, What You Need to Know About Accommodations and Modifications.
For students who are planning to work toward a diploma, the transition IEP held at the end of eighth grade before they make the leap to high school is a good time to discuss their long-term goals. Specifically, Dr. Pelangka says, when students prepare for the transition to high school, they select a tentative or preliminary schedule. “There is a page in the IEP that lists the student’s projected four-year plan or class load,” she says. “Here is where those discussions should take place — what electives would the student prefer? What classes lend to their strengths and interests? Will they take honors classes? Will they take PE or sports or Independent PE?”
Some of the questions you’ll want to ask include:
- What classes and how many credits will the student need to graduate?
- If the student has accessed a modified curriculum but wants to graduate with a diploma, is that realistic? What are the steps they need to follow to get there?
Of course, Dr. Pelangka says, “Many students may not ‘know’ what their path is yet, hence why the ITP is not legally required until age sixteen. But again, given that there is an IEP in place and this can dictate so many future avenues, it is important to pre-plan if you can, and get it all out on the table.”
Prepare for the ITP meeting
The planning process for your child’s ITP will formally begin as a component of their IEP — and just as no two students (or their IEPs) are exactly alike, every family will experience this process differently. The entities and resources that a student and their family will engage with during the transition planning process will depend on the student’s goals, abilities, and needs. Because of this, there is no single step-by-step guide that applies to everyone. However, there are some solid steps that every family can take early on.
Reactivate your Regional Center case if your child had one and stopped using services as they got older.
Establish a relationship with the Department of Rehabilitation. DOR offers student services (Pre-Employment Transition Services) and Vocational Rehabilitation services, and has staff in each of their state offices dedicated to helping students with disabilities. This includes participation in a student’s IEP/ITP meeting, whether it’s in person or by phone or videoconference. DOR can help a student with job counseling, work-based learning, post-secondary education counseling, workplace readiness training, and advocacy training, among others. (Note that you must reach out to DOR well in advance of your first ITP meeting to determine whether their attendance is appropriate for your child — your child must be a DOR client before your school can invite DOR to the ITP on their behalf.)
Request a planning meeting with your IEP team to start talking about the transition process and thinking about goals. Once you’ve established connections with the appropriate interagency participants, ask your child’s school to invite them to the IEP meeting.
Know that this will be an ongoing process from when your child starts high school (or earlier!) until they graduate or age out at twenty-two.
Learn more about college programs
When you get to the ITP meeting, Dr. Pelangka says, it’s not necessary to discuss college in detail yet, but if a student knows that they want to pursue postsecondary education, that is information you should share. Keep in mind that while many colleges offer resources to students with disabilities, and all colleges allow accommodations, a student’s IEP ends with graduation. It’s a good idea to research colleges and the resources they offer to students with disabilities well in advance.
There are a number of colleges and universities with dedicated education programs for young adults or adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Check out Think College’s College Search Tool, which can help you learn about such college programs across the country. Many colleges in California have developed programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including UC Davis and UCLA.
The California Department of Education suggests using the Big Future College Board website to search for schools that meet your child’s needs. School guidance counselors and IEP team members can also be a resource for these programs.
Dr. Pelangka says it’s also a good idea to ask your ITP team:
- What resources and accommodations are available once a student gets to college?
- Can we write an ITP goal for the student to learn how to access their disability center on the college campus?
Learn more about Regional Center programs for young adults
Parents’ level of involvement in coordinating services with Regional Center can vary — different school districts may take a more hands-on approach coordinating post-secondary Regional Center options than others. But generally speaking, it’s wise to reach out to Regional Center about post-secondary programs sooner rather than later (especially if your child received services from them in the past, but not recently).
Rosenberg advises reactivating your Regional Center case as soon as possible when your child starts high school to ensure a smooth transition, and so that there is no hiatus:
Regional Centers offer a number of services that may be included in your child’s transition plan. While services may change depending on where you live, Rosenberg says these may include:
Day programs, such as work activities;
Tailored day services, which are unique to the individual;
Supported employment to help with jobs, which could be from Regional Center and/or blended for ongoing supported employment from the Department of Rehabilitation and the Regional Center together;
Supported living, especially more individualized or smaller groups;
The Self-Determination Program, which is open to all eligible Regional Center clients, and builds on the person-centered plan for unique services and supports.
Develop meaningful ITP goals and set students up for success
Transition goals are not permanent; they can change, and they are reviewed every year as part of the larger IEP. Over time, these goals may become more specific as your child learns and develops new interests.
Topics to consider include:
Postsecondary education, employment, and career pathway preparation
Health and accommodations
Benefit planning and financial management
Community resources and services
Self-determination and advocacy
Competitive integrated employment (CIE)
Benefits planning and management (SSI, CalABLE, etc.)
Like any well-stated goal, ITP goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based — but don’t stop there. They should also be realistic and ambitious, and take your child’s strengths and needs into careful consideration.
As Rosenberg explains, an ITP absolutely needs “to have written, measurable postsecondary goals. What are they going to do after they leave the high school district?” While some students with IEPs may leave the district after receiving a diploma in twelfth grade, others may stay until they’re twenty-two as part of an adult transition program. These programs are run by public schools for young adults with IEPs who have not yet earned a diploma and who need additional support services.
There are a number of guides and groups available to help students and parents develop meaningful ITP goals, including the California Transition Alliance. One key to creating a successful ITP is to consider how your child’s dreams can be achieved, even if that happens in unexpected ways. Whether your child pursues further education, applies for jobs, starts volunteering, or spends time on favorite hobbies, the ITP should prepare them for these opportunities.
“For example, a teen wants to be a doctor but doesn’t have the math or reading skills to pursue that avenue,” Rosenberg says. “You need to ask: What’s in the seed of reality for this dream? The student might clarify: ‘I want to help people. I want to wear a uniform. I want to work in a hospital.’ That’s how we open doors: by making and allowing individuals to be aware of what is in the seed of their dream that we can build on.”
Although each ITP should be as unique as the student it was made for, it can be helpful to look through sample ITPs to get an idea of how goals are structured and what kinds of ground they might cover. Follow the links below to review two sample ITPs:
Identify and clarify ITP goals
There are plenty of assessment tools and strategies that can help your child think through their interests and strengths and set ITP goals for the future. Keep in mind that your child’s transition team should choose different assessment methods based on their unique needs. Some common tools include:
Multiple intelligences assessments
Reading-Free Interest Inventory
These assessments can also focus on specific topics, such as music, science, or sports, to narrow down your child’s interests. For example, a teen who is interested in music may enjoy working in a more technical position, such as a sound engineer, or may dream of performing in front of a crowd.
There are assessment tools available for all levels of communication and comprehension. Rosenberg is particularly familiar with interest inventories: “We can ask a child or young adult, ‘What do you like, what don’t you like?’ We have 150 careers that we go through. We also offer it online with career games and a reading-free interest inventory assessment.”
First-hand experience with different jobs can also help your child figure out what sort of work they truly enjoy. Volunteering can serve as a great opportunity for teenagers and young adults to learn about different careers firsthand. Programs such as WorkAbility allow high-schoolers and eighteen- to twenty-two-year-olds to try out different jobs, and pairs them with a job coach who regularly checks in to make sure everything is going well and help with any challenges. “I believe the best way to understand ‘What do I want to do when I grow up?’ is to be in those environments,” Rosenberg says.
Take lessons from the Self-Determination Program
The IEP/ITP team is required to invite the student to any meetings for their transition plan. And as with the Self-Determination Program, transition planning should be led by the student, which means planning with the student, not for them. Rosenberg says the ITP “should be for [the student’s] life, not for the parents’ life.” However a student expresses their interests and desires, they should be given ample opportunity to do so. The input of their loved ones, friends, and teachers can also be valuable. Having a diverse group of friends, family members, and educators can bring fresh perspectives to brainstorming sessions, enabling the team to come up with creative solutions to any challenges you might encounter.
As Rosenberg explains, person-centered planning is really the process of creating a lifestyle. “What do they really want to do when they grow up? What does that look like, and how do we navigate it?” Rosenberg adds that the process “may be done with pictures, gestures, facilitated communication, or other alternative means of communication. What’s important is figuring out how to hear the voice of the targeted individual.”
Ultimately, the ITP should focus on the student’s future, with their input as the guiding force. The point of person-centered planning is to “identify opportunities for them to develop personal relationships, participate in their community, increase control over their own lives, and develop the skills and abilities needed to achieve these goals.”
For more on person-centered planning, watch this clip:
Prepare your child for the future!
Rosenberg advises parents to “go with their dreams for their kids. That’s number one. Number two: If you don’t like what’s happening, speak up. Speak up, challenge the system. If there’s a bad interaction or karma between your student and a teacher, your student and a social worker, speak up for your son or daughter. Be an advocate. You’ve got to come from a person-centered perspective. What makes sense for your son or daughter? What are you building for their future as you navigate?”
More resources for transitioning out of high school
Transition Partnership Programs (TPP) with the Department of Rehab (DOR) are geared toward helping high school students with disabilities prepare for and find meaningful education and employment after high school. The DOR offers WorkAbility II, III, and IV and We-Can-Work programs with local education agencies, colleges, and universities for individuals aged sixteen and up that may include job preparation, placement, work experiences, and other post-secondary opportunities. WorkAbility I is a unique service from the Local Education Agencies that have a WorkAbility program and is funded through the Department of Education.
DOR Student Services are available to students with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 21 who are enrolled in school and include job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, post-secondary counseling, workplace readiness training, and advocacy training.
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services include counseling and guidance, job-search and placement assistance, supported employment, assistive technology services and devices, and more.
Frostig School put together a tremendous pamphlet to guide young adults through their transition planning. It lists a variety of programs focused on job training and supported employment (there are some great outside-the-box ideas from the California Conservation Corps to Inclusion Films), speciality technical and trade schools, LA-area community colleges, independent living programs, college programs, and more.
The California Transition Alliance offers an in-depth ITP guide.
Check out the following websites, services, and checklists:
Disability Rights California transition services
State Council on Developmental Disabilities transition planning checklist
Thompson Autism Center at CHOC Children’s Hospital
Transition CA website from the Chapman University Transition Initiative
Transition Services session from the 2021 Summit on Disability and Inclusion
Do you have words of wisdom or advice to share with our community? We’d love to hear them!