The Future Starts Now: Discovering the Possibilities for Your Child with Multiple Disabilities

The Transition to Adulthood

Parents, in general, have mixed feelings when they think about their children growing up and becoming adults. Still, when their children have complex needs, those feelings can frequently include very serious concerns about the future. Formal processes for planning a student’s life after high school are required in the law governing special education services that families need to know about and that they may find helpful. In particular, a transition team is supposed to start meeting toward the end of your child’s time in school to plan your child’s journey, or transition, from high school into adulthood, and life beyond school-age services. This team includes you, your child, and the other educational team members, and the team meetings focus on what needs to occur during the last years of school. However, it is important to think about the future well before that time and in a broader way.

Planning for the Future

Planning for the immediate needs of today, tomorrow, or the school year can be overwhelming, making it tough to think about the future. That’s why it’s beneficial to regularly ask your child’s educational team to dedicate time for future planning. If your child is over three years old during the school year, the team is tasked with creating an Individualized Educational Program (IEP). This plan, based on your child’s needs assessment, sets educational goals for the year. However, future planning goes beyond these meetings. It involves developing a comprehensive vision that encompasses all life aspects, not just school. This approach is often called person-centered or futures planning. It encompasses:

  • examining your child’s interests, strengths, needs, and learning style;
  • identifying your child’s dreams and goals;
  • considering who is in your child’s support network; and
  • planning how these people can come together to support your child in reaching their goals.

We have a futures planning checklist that you can use to prepare.

Where Will My Child Work?

In planning for the future, it is helpful to have ideas of employment options for young adults who are blind with additional disabilities. The transition from public school moves from one system providing services to multiple agencies that all do various parts of the overall plan. States vary in what types of programs they provide and often have waiting lists for their services. This complexity is one of the reasons it is important to start the planning process early. Supported employment is a popular option for many looking for an inclusive work environment.

Where Will My Child Live?

Just as you have several types of employment options, there are several options for finding a place for a young adult who is blind with additional disabilities to live. In many instances, the transition into a place to live away from the family home does not take place for many years. Employment and options for activities during the day are the first priority. In time, the concept of living away from the family home will become an important aspect of the transition planning.

Financial Planning

Families looking to save for expenses after their child transitions to adulthood have a few options. Our article, “Planning for the Financial Future of a Child with Multiple Disabilities: Steps 1 Through 12,” outlines several choices.

Person-centered planning typically involves a team. This includes your family, key figures in your child’s life, and their special educators. These meetings should occur regularly, with the frequency tailored to your child’s needs and your preferences. Importantly, they should be distinct from other school-related meetings.

Person Centered Planning

  • The meeting focuses on your child with visual and complex needs. It is not an IEP meeting where various professionals share assessment results and plan the IEP. Typically, a future-planning meeting happens before the IEP meeting. Your child is very much involved in the meeting.
  • The meeting looks at your child now, in the near future, and in the distant future (5-10 years from now). Spending time looking at your child’s and family’s wishes for the distant future will guide the team in identifying the people who can support your child in achieving goals, the activities your child enjoys doing that can be built on to reach their goals, and the other people and resources your team might ask to join you to support your child’s journey toward reaching their goals.
  • Person-centered planning encompasses all aspects of your child’s life. This process is not about the school system and what services are or are not available at this point in time and doesn’t focus on what the school system can or cannot offer. Therefore, this planning supplements and is in addition to any transition planning taking place in school.

Person-centered planning meetings typically last from two to four hours. Often chart paper is used to draw or list information that pertains to your child’s future. There needs to be a facilitator for the meeting, perhaps a special educator you know. The facilitator guides the discussion by asking open-ended questions. The tone of the meeting is positive. Members are encouraged to share and to “think outside of the box” when it comes to envisioning your child’s future. This includes the things your child enjoys with the support and services needed to be happy and successful.

Other Processes

There are several methods to assist teams in person-centered planning. You might come across terms like Making Action Plans (MAPS) or Choosing Outcomes and Accommodations for Children (COACH). To start considering this type of planning, talking to other parents and national organizations for parents and individuals with disabilities.