How to Prepare Students for Transition

By Melissa Ragan

As both a high school teacher and the parent of a child who has transitioned to life after high school, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make the transition for young adults with disabilities a little smoother based on some of the mistakes and lessons we’ve learned. Here are five ways we can help prepare all students with disabilities to be successful in their post-school lives.


Self-determination is a person’s ability to make choices that allow them to control their own future. As educators (and parents), we want the best for our students, and this can often lead to us being over-protective of young adults with disabilities. However, we don’t have to protect our students from everything. We can give them some space to make their own decisions and room to fail. Everyone experiences failure at some point in their life. If we want our students with disabilities to have typical experiences, this means experiencing failure, too.  However, it’s crucial to reframe FAIL as: First Attempt In Learning and to treat each failure as a learning experience.

How do I do it?

Ask students and their caregivers questions to determine what their goals are for after high school. Make sure all stakeholders understand what is realistic, what needs to happen in order to make sure the goals are reached, and the potential consequences of each action. Then, start with giving students small choices to make. Take time after each decision has been made to evaluate the results of the choice. With guidance, help your student decide if they made the best decision, and with the rest of the transition time, provide other ideas to ensure the student’s post-school goals are reached.  


It’s pretty easy for us to see the strengths and areas of needs in others. But often, our youth with disabilities don’t know their own strengths and needs. Or, they’re only well-acquainted with their limitations. This is really a huge disservice to our students. Everyone (and I do mean everyone), has strengths. Whether it’s the way they make others smile, their ability to do computer coding, drawing beautiful artwork, or building relationships with others. It is important for students to know those strengths and needs so they can set their goals for the future based on them. 

How do I do it?

One of the best ways to find a student’s strengths and needs is with an objective assessment. The best assessment surveys the student, a family member, and gets input from a teacher or another member of the student’s transition team to get a whole picture of the student. We like the TAGG Assessment, from the University of Oklahoma’s Zarrow Center. The best part? It’s only $3 per student! To learn more, visit:


To be successful, not only do we need to know our strengths and needs, but we also need to be able to know how and where to get the help we need, as well as who we can really count on when we need help. For students with disabilities, this can be tricky. Often, young adults want a level of independence, yet they’ve largely had many of their needs taken care of in the past. This can lead to some unintended consequences. For example, a young adult who may not understand that getting a medication refilled means regular doctor’s appointments. Or a student who is taking post-secondary courses who doesn’t realize that they need to explicitly ask for accommodations. This is why we need to teach transitioning students how to self-advocate, which includes not just what help they need, but where to get it, and who can help them. 

How do I do it?

One of my favorite activities is to take a close look at each student’s IEP in a one-on-one setting. Together, we mark it up, identifying the name of their disability, services they get, accommodations they’re entitled to, and people on the transition team and their role. I ask the student what accommodations and services are most helpful and which people they have a relationship with. Together, we create a common language that students can use after they graduate from high school to identify the people who can help them, and resources they need to advocate for themselves. 

Financial Literacy

Understanding one’s finances is difficult for those who are typical. To be transparent, I can’t recall the last time I balanced my own checking account. But when you have a young adult with a disability, there are some additional factors to consider. Because of these considerations, it’s more important than ever for students with disabilities to understand financial literacy. This means more than knowing how to use an ATM card, knowing the importance of keeping passwords secure, or learning how to read a pay stub. Students – and their families – need to be able to understand and navigate the often complicated world of public agencies, such as Social Security and vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies, and the complexities of non-profit organizations.

How do I do it?

There are a variety of organizations that offer no or low-cost financial literacy resources to teach students banking basics, such as managing a checking or savings account. In the state I taught and lived in, the local VR agency set up appointments with students and their family members before graduation from high school so that they had a basic understanding of what to expect after graduation. Ditto for the Social Security Administration. There are also likely local nonprofit organizations that can also help students and their parents prepare financially. For students with disabilities who have complex needs, or who may require guardianship, consulting with an attorney may also be a course of action. There are some national organizations that may also be able to help your students and families identify resources. 

Interpersonal Skills

Of course, having all this information is great, but if your students don’t have the interpersonal skills to communicate those strategies, their results won’t be as successful. Having good interpersonal skills means more than just being able to speak and listen or read or write. It means learning how to “read” body language – even if this isn’t a strength for us. It means learning how to work in collaborative groups – even when the group is diverse. It means understanding what it means to have a work ethic and being able to give and receive feedback – even when doing so is uncomfortable. These are all part of interpersonal skills, and being able to do these things will lead to a successful post-school transition.

How do I do it?

The best way to teach interpersonal skills is to model them while doing a “think aloud.” Another way is to point out examples of students showing good interpersonal skills out when you see your students doing them. You can also provide prompts and visual reminders for students so that they can remember strategies to improve their interpersonal skills.

Of course, our transition curriculum can also help you to teach interpersonal skills explicitly to students. We also offer a financial literacy course and social-emotional learning courses to help develop self-awareness skills. If you’d like to learn more about those courses, visit us here. Or, you can email

We’d love to hear your stories about successful post-school outcomes! Send your success stories to:

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