Those with disabilities have tough transition

February 27, 2011 

Transition to adulthood is never easy, but for young folks with developmental disabilities, moving to adulthood has special challenges.

For many youth, the high school years between 14 and 18 are the times to “test the waters.” At 18, most have been licensed drivers for two years, are old enough to legally vote, and are getting ready to leave home for college or a new work opportunity.

The reality is quite different for children with developmental disabilities. Basic services – such as having a safe place to spend the day, support for their personal care, transportation, and sometimes free or reduced-price lunches that are provided during the K–12 school years – may no longer be available. Involvement in a program during these later teen years can help some transition to a successful life as an adult with developmental disabilities.

Students with developmental disabilities who are age 18-21 are entitled to programs to help prepare for adulthood. These transition programs are offered through school districts, and help the students learn life skills such as personal hygiene, safety, and social interaction. And many are also training them to be ready to enter the job market. In fact, helping students figure out what types of jobs they would be good at as adults is becoming common. This type of goal usually requires planning and support.

Strong family support also can help students transition into adult life successfully. Some teachers use Individual Educational Plans to help students and their family members design their educational goals and get involved in what the student is learning. It can be helpful to include people who know the student well and can identify the student’s strengths and skills. Having friends and family involved and working toward a common goal makes it more likely that a youth with disabilities will succeed.

There are companies, organizations, and programs in our community to help students with developmental disabilities plan their future. These resources can help someone find a job, learn how to ride a bus, or learn how to live as independently as possible.

The Thurston-Mason County Developmental Disability Program will host its annual Transition Fair from 4-7 p.m. Thursday at the Labor and Industries Building in Tumwater. The fair is open to anyone interested in services for people with developmental disabilities, including people with disabilities and their family members. There will be more than 20 companies and organizations at the fair to share information about their programs.

For more information, or to ask for an accommodation, contact Anne Butigan at Thurston-Mason County Developmental Disability Program at 360-867-2520 or

Dr. Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston and Mason counties. She can be reached at 360-867-2501 and

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