Category Archives: Evidence-Based Practices

Project SEARCH: New Pathways for Young Adults with Disabilities

The Project SEARCH High School Transition program is a one year business-led, collaborative program for students with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities, ages 18-22. The program provides intensive training for students in a hands-on environment to gain skills for competitive employment.

There are Project SEARCH programs around the United States.  The FAQ page contains information on how to start a program in a community.

Learn more about Project SEARCH here.

Interagency Collaboration in Transition to Adulthood for Young Adults with Disabilities: Barriers and Facilitators

Essential Educator, December 12, 2013

This article is based on a research study conducted across four states in March, 2013 on the barriers and facilitators in interagency collaboration for students with disabilities. One of the authors, Deanna L. Taylor, is the founder of Transition Universe.


Effective collaboration that results in successful postschool outcomes for young adults with disabilities (such as employment or enrollment in college courses) depends on many factors. One factor is interagency collaboration, meaning frequent interaction between special education (SE), vocational rehabilitation (VR), and other agencies leading to successful outcomes (e.g., Test, Fowler, Kohler, & Kortering, 2010). Model demonstration projects have shown that continuous interactions between transition SE teachers, VR counselors, and other stakeholders have improved the transition processes and outcomes (Noonan, Erickson, & Morningstar, 2012). But what happens in transition classrooms in Utah and across the U.S. may be very different from what happens in model projects.

Trach (2012) explained low levels of collaboration between SE and VR: These systems operate in different departments, require different legislation, and receive different resources. The provision of coordinated and related services are an integral part of a free and appropriate public education for students under Part B of IDEA, but the collaboration process is not clearly described. (p. 40).

Survey Procedures

We conducted a survey study to identify barriers and facilitators to collaboration between SE and VR. Only SE teachers and VR counselors with experience in assisting students/clients in transition from school to adulthood received the survey. Teacher and counselor questionnaires were nearly identical. Respondents were 220 SE transition teachers and 78 VR counselors from Utah, Florida, Maryland, or Oregon. In Utah 135 transition teachers and 10 VR counselors responded.


Survey Results

Across four states, 60% of SE transition teachers indicated that VR counselors were integral to transition planning. The same percentage of SE transition teachers in Utah found VR counselors to play an integral role. In contrast, 94% of VR counselors indicated that their roles were integral to transition planning. In Utah, 100% of VR counselors indicated that their roles were integral. Most transition teachers reported that they interacted with VR counselors on an annual basis. However, the VR counselors reported that they received information about students in transition and were invited to IEP meetings at least weekly. The highest percentage of SE transition teachers (37%) indicated that VR counselors never participated in activities other than the IEP meetings while only 13% of VR counselors reported never and 43% reported at least monthly. Overall, 32% of SE transition teachers indicated that VR counselors were invited to IEP meetings at least annually, but 32% of VR counselors reported invitations at least weekly. Obviously, the difference in perceptions is explainable, at least in part, because VR counselors with transition caseloads often work in multiple schools and visit with multiple transition planning teams.

We asked SE transition teachers and VR counselors whether they were satisfied with the role of the VR counselor in the transition process. Seventy-seven percent of VR counselors reporting that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their involvement, compared to 53% of SE transition teachers.

We asked participants to rate the importance and feasibility of 14 collaboration practices in transition. The “best practices”, shown in Table 1, were collected by the researchers based on a review of the collaboration literature. First, respondents rated importance of these practices on a 4-point scale ranging from Very important (1) to Not important (4). Second, respondents rated feasibility of implementation on a 4-point scale from Highly likely (1) to Not likely (4). That is, the lower the number, the higher the importance/feasibility. We wanted to examine what collaboration practices were considered important and feasible by both groups. We split the 4-point scale in half to make decisions about importance and feasibility. That is:

• If the mean rating was between 1 and 2.5, we considered it important/feasible.

• If the mean rating was between 2.5 and 4, we considered it unimportant/not feasible.

The list of practices in Table 1 is arranged according to the overall sample’s ratings of importance. Ratings in Table 1 are not divided into SE and VR but represent overall data.

Although all items were rated important, most were considered not feasible. Overall, 11 of 14 practices were considered not feasible. In the Utah sample, 10 of 14 items were considered not feasible. The most important practice (lowest number) was Providing Training to Transition Teachers on Transition Process and it was considered feasible. We found that SE transition teachers’ and VR counselors’ ratings of importance were nearly identical. However, ratings of feasibility differed between SE transition teachers and VR counselors (Mann-Whitney U, p < .005). SE transition teachers rated feasibility much lower than VR counselors. Differences in ratings of feasibility may suggest that SE transition teachers are less optimistic than VR counselors about whether collaboration can be improved.

We asked respondents to identify the “next critical steps” for improving collaboration and grouped responses according to themes. The most common theme across both transition teachers and VR counselors was More Time for Developing Relationships (with the Other Agency Personnel) to Improve Collaboration. The second most common theme for transition teachers was Additional Funding, and for VR counselors, Increased Administrative Support.


Findings from this four-state survey indicate that SE transition teachers and VR counselors perceive that collaboration is important and must be viewed as a high priority to improve transition outcomes, but considerable work remains in regards to understanding roles and responsibilities, as well as implementing practices considered important. Consistently low feasibility ratings may mean that practitioners are not optimistic about the prospects of improving collaboration. Based on the suggestions offered by participants, administrative approval and funding are viewed as imperative for actual implementation of collaboration to occur, neither of which is perceived as likely. If this is the case, we must conclude that key decision-makers must lead the charge to improve collaboration.

See additional suggestions for improved collaboration paraphrased from SE transition teachers’ and VR counselors’ statements in Figure 1. Although some of these suggestions may not be feasible in the literal sense, they may compel the reader to generate new or modified plans.

Table-1 Table-1part2


•    Clarify roles and responsibilities. See Utah Transition Action Guide at

•    VR counselors often attend IEP meetings with no prior information about the child. Given parent consent and district release, arrange for relevant documents to be sent to the VR counselor prior to the meeting so the counselor can be more effective.

•    Hold training with diverse groups consisting of parents, family members, students, SE transition teachers, other school personnel, and VR.

•    VR counselors’ calendars fill up far in advance. Teachers should plan IEP schedules several weeks ahead and notify VR. Perhaps counselors can reserve an afternoon a month for IEPs.

•    Beyond IEP meetings, invite VR counselors to school functions with advance notice.


•    VR and SE should collaborate on a grant writing process to fund a year or two of joint training to help all those involved in the transition process.

•    Convince legislators that successful post-school outcomes make transition cost effective. It’s money well spent.

•    Provide funding for more vocational training programs for those individuals with diverse learning styles and disabilities through partnerships at vocational centers or local community colleges.


•    Hire paraprofessionals to work in the community developing job placements. These could be retired individuals or family members who want to make a difference.

•    Contact high school alumni dedicated to their alma mater who will arrange internships or paid employment.

Administrative Actions

•    Beyond a “memo of understanding”, create real joint training opportunities for SE transition teachers and VR counselors. Don’t limit it to supervisors or state office personnel.

•    SE and VR should merge yearly training schedules before the school year begins.

AuthorsDeanna Taylor, Bob Morgan, & Jared Schultz, Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation, Utah State University

References available from the authors.

Thriving in Transition to Adulthood through Service Learning

Essential Educator, December 12, 2013

Transition to adulthood for students can be confusing and overwhelming. Having a disability on top of facing life after high school adds to the increased anxiety many students experience as they approach graduation. Educators may feel helpless and frustrated in terms of the best way to help students find their way to adulthood. There are options, however, that can make this time exciting as students plan their futures. Service learning is an option that provides numerous elements of transition.

Service learning is a concept that has helped many students identify the post-high school path they would like to follow. Service learning has helped students become more self-directed in their academics, and has contributed to the development of self-confidence in and awareness of their role in the community.

Making the transition to adulthood is a very complex time, and expectations for the acquisition of new skills and roles are high. The very characteristics reported as making service experiences positive are those that provide youths with tools for this transition. (Martin et al., 2006)

Service learning is much more than volunteering; it is another means of accomplishing “big learning”. Service learning combines service tasks with structured learning opportunities that link the task to self-reflection and self-discovery, and to the acquisition and comprehension of knowledge, ideas, values, and skills. Potential outcomes of successful service learning experiences include the development of an interest in lifelong learning; development of self-confidence; sense of self-worth by contributing to the strengthening of the community; development of leadership and social skills; increased academic skills; development of the ability to see different perspectives of issues in the community, thereby fostering more compassion and self awareness; defining career paths which facilitates goal-setting; and the development of employment skills. The service-learning component of the school community in which I work has yielded such positive outcomes for students.

Continue Reading here.

Learning life lessons one class at a time

Quad-City Times – Davenport, Iowa – December 9, 2013

Asking a teenager to take out the garbage or help cook dinner isn’t always the most pleasant experience for parents.

In Tara Rommel’s Life Skills class at Davenport West High School, the students are more than willing to pitch in around the house. Thursday was no exception.

The group of seven students and their teachers gathered at the Life Skills house on 36th Street to prepare a traditional holiday dinner complete with a turkey, fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, corn, rolls and juice.

West’s Life Skills program teaches special education students practical, daily living skills. The Davenport Community School District has similar Life Skills programs in each of the high schools and at the elementary and intermediate school levels.

Continue reading here.


Teens, Adults With Autism Need More Support: More must be learned about the effects and care of the transition from adolescence to adulthood among people with autism

Psychiatric News Post

In the past, autism was seen as a disorder of very young children. But children grow up, and far too little is known about autism in adults, said Fred Volkmar, M.D., at APA’s 2013 Institute on Psychiatric Services in Philadelphia in October.

“Autism is a disorder of variability, and it has a tremendous range within the person, across populations, and across time,” said Volkmar, a professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, and psychology at the Yale School of Medicine and director of the Yale Child Study Center.

Preparing adolescents for transition to an adult world requires more than using interventions originally tailored for children, Volkmar maintained. “Adaptive skills must be taught explicitly,” he said, recounting the case of one patient who could do complex mathematics in his head but could not order a hamburger and count the change.

Preparing students for life after high school: Florida School for the Deaf and Blind

This high school program is doing some amazing things to prepare students with visual and hearing impairments to life after high school.

National Transition Dialogue: Report

Federal Partners in  Transition National Transition Dialogue

 The Federal Partners in Transition National Online Dialogue was held on May 13 to May 27, 2013 through the U.S. Departments of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services and the Social security Administration.  The dialogue generated ideas and comments about federal legislative and regulatory barriers and other opportunities to improve transition outcomes for youth with disabilities.

Based on the input of participants, a report entitled Federal Partners in Transition National Online Dialogue: Participation Metrics was developed to summarize the dialogue’s results. “Your thoughtful responses have added tremendous value and will help to frame our efforts to work together strategically to develop a plan to improve transition results for youth with disabilities by 2020”.

To view the full report, click on this link:View PDF File.

Charting a Course for the Future – A Transition Toolkit

Colorado Department of Education

Numerous follow-up and follow-along studies of youth with disabilities in areas such as employment, living arrangements, post-secondary education and training, and community participation have shown that these individuals do not succeed as well as young adults when compared to the general population. In order to improve these outcomes for youth with disabilities, transition services requirements were included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA P.L. 101-476). The basic purpose of including transition components in the legislation is to better prepare students with disabilities to gain access to the supports and services necessary to reach their desired outcomes and become as independent as possible. The transition planning process should promote successful movement from school to post-secondary education and training, employment, independent living, and community participation based on students’ preferences, interests and abilities.

The concept of transition is simple. First help students and their families think about their life after high school and identify desired outcomes and then to design their school and community experiences to ensure that the student gains the skills and connection necessary to achieve those outcomes. The transition services requirements of IDEA provide opportunities to:

  • Help students and families think about the future and consider what they want to do after high school.
  • Plan how to make the high school experience most relevant to the student’s desired outcomes, and
  • Help students and families make connection to supports and services that they make need after high school.

Although the concept of transition is simple, the process of planning and providing transition services based on individual student needs may be challenging in our complicated systems of education with limited resources. This toolkit provides information and tools necessary in creating a comprehensive and individualized transition process.

See more information and download the toolkit here.

A Collaborative Interagency, Interdisciplinary Approach to Transition from Adolescence to Adulthood

Association of University Centers on Disabilities document 

As youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) leave school, they face several transitions including school to work or postsecondary education, family home to community living, and child oriented health care to adult care.
Youth should be able to expect self-determined transitions with coordinated support from family, community, professionals, and agencies, but they and their families often experience very little choice, control, or collaboration from the
myriad of systems to which they look for support and services for transition.
Multiple barriers stand in the way of a coordinated approach to supporting all aspects of successful transition to adulthood. These barriers include failing to support self-determination as a central element of the person-centered process of transition; insufficient understanding of the role of culture in an individual or family’s concept or approach to transition; the tendency for professionals within each transition domain (education, health, community living, employment, others) to use language that is not easily understood by other professionals, youth,
families, or other community partners; and neglecting to specifically explore how transition in the different realms could/should be linked for maximizing success.
To that end, this paper promotes four core concepts that are essential to the development and implementation of effective transition plans and process.

Read the document here.

PEER helps young adults with disabilities transition to the adult world

Center for Persons with Disabilities (Utah State University) article 

A job interview is stressful. It induces racing thoughts, a beating heart, sweating palms—but imagine how much worse it would be if you didn’t know how to greet the person who interviews you. How do you shake hands? How much eye contact is appropriate? How do you start and end a conversation?

The Post-Secondary Education, Employment and Research  program is designed to help young adults with disabilities overcome both social and educational barriers so they can transition from the school system to the adult, working world. For four years, it has provided an environment where young people learn, research happens and volunteerism thrives.

“The biggest difference we saw between doing a program like this at college and at a high school is the difference in the behavior of the students,” said Kerry Done, the PEER classroom teacher. “The difference between a college freshman and a high school freshman is so great. The PEER students had better role models on campus.”

Read more here.