Transition Timeline: Where to Start

Transitions occur at many stages throughout an individual's life and early planning is a helpful way to ensure that the student, family, school, and community are well-prepared. The transition process involves identifying the strengths, needs, and preferences of the individual, across multiple settings, including school, work, home, and community.

The transition from home-based early intervention to preschool is the first transition that many families experience in the educational system with their child, followed a couple of years later by the transition into Kindergarten. Moving on to middle school and high school will happen at different times, depending on the specific school district, but each time the student moves into a new classroom with a new team is a transition.  While each of these transitions takes special planning, the focus of this website is on the transition from school to adult life.

Who Should Be Involved in Transition Planning?

Transition planning is most effective when there is a strong partnership between the student, the family, school-age services and program providers, post-secondary services and program providers, and local community members. The process includes identifying the student’s strengths, interests, preferences, and needs, and then determining what services and supports he or she will need to achieve future success.

IDEA and Transition Planning:  What Does the Law Say?

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) ’97 requires that the student’s IEP include:

  • A statement of transition service needs at age 14 or younger, if appropriate.
  • A statement of needed transition services at age 16 or younger, if appropriate.

For all students, starting at age 14 (or younger, when appropriate) and continuing until the student is no longer eligible for special education services, the IEP team must:

  • Invite the student to participate in his or her IEP development.
  • Base the IEP on the student’s needs, taking into account the student's preferences and interests.
  • Can include developing the student’s post-school goals.
  • Identify the student’s transition service needs.

Timeline for Transition from School to Adulthood

The Federal Government provides some guidelines for Transition Planning.  Local districts or individual teams should determine which additional steps should be included in the transition planning process.  

*** Please note that these are just guidelines and often change.  Be sure to check on the specifics for your particular state.

Prior to age 14

  • Connect with Family Organizations
  • Register with state agencies for services
  • Design a Personal Learning Profile Checklist
  • For those who are deafblind, be sure that the student is registered with the state deaf-blind project and has been added to the deaf-blind child count.

By age 14

  • Learn about the transition process and what that means for your child or student.
  • A student who receives a certificate at graduation is eligible to continue receiving special education services until receipt of a signed, regular diploma or until the end of the academic year in which they turn age 21.
  • Begin to explore teen’s work and independent living interests and goals.
  • Invite teens to participate in their IEP meetings and begin Transition Planning with the teams, if not already in progress.
  • Obtain Social Security card, if not done previously.
  • Determine appropriate adult agencies, such as Division of the Blind, Division of the Deaf, Division of Developmental Disabilities, or whatever the comparable state agencies are called.
  • Teens should have a full formal and standardized assessment, as scores are required to determine eligibility in many states.  *Note that standardized tests may not be normed and validated for students with visual or multipleimpairments, but teams should make every effort to provide appropriate accommodations to assure appropriate documentation.
  • Look into your State’s ID rules and requirements for obtaining legal identification (if no driver’s licenses would be acquired)
  • Invite a Transition Specialist or Coordinator to join IEP team
  • Begin to establish and ensure a trans-disciplinary team.
  • Follow Transition planning statements outlined in the IEP.
  • Determine a systematic approach of gathering work related documents for documentation.
  • Consider conducting a GAP (Group Action Planning), MAP (Making Action Plans), PATH ( Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope) and/or PCP (Person Center Planning) session.
  • Consider an Assistive Technology Evaluation.
  • Consider a Low Vision evaluation.
  • Consider and develop mobility and travel safety skills.
  • Obtain Release and Consent Forms for adult service agencies involvement.
  • Begin to research summer camp opportunities.
  • For students who are deafblind, register with HKNC registry and Regional Representative.

By age 16

  • Schools are required to invite students to their IEP meetings.
  • IEP teams are required to develop Transition Goals with each student in special education, to be reviewed and updated each year.
  • Graduation plans must be a part of all IEPs for students 16 and over. Students in special education may attend school until the end of the academic year in which they turn age 20-22, depending on the state. Students may participate in graduation and still be eligible to continue receiving special education services, as long as they have not received a signed diploma.
  • Begin job training at school sites or in the community.
  • Explore part-time and summer employment options, if appropriate.
  • Evaluate the need for disability-related benefits and Medicaid vs. competitive employment and employer insurance. 

By age 17

  • Make graduation plans or certificate of completion and attendance, if appropriate.
  • Notify Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) for teens with and without IEPs by Autumn of the year before they graduate.
  • Re-evaluate benefits as needed. If appropriate, check eligibility for SSI in birth month and apply for Medicaid six months before 18th birthday. At age 18, the youth’s financial resources are considered, not the parents’. If already receiving Medicaid, eligibility is re-evaluated at age 18 with a different definition of disability.
  • Teens must have a complete assessment, including cognitive, assistive technology and other related areas by the age of 18, if they plan to register with the Division of Development Disabilities (DDD) or whatever the comparable agency is in the state.  The score is often required to determine eligibility, depending on the state.
  • Register to vote if teen will be 18 by the day of the next election.
  • Begin exploring health care financing.
  • Take college entrance exams and complete applications, if appropriate. Read more tips on preparing for college.

By age 18

  • Be sure that teen has appropriate type of Medicaid coverage, as there are different types of Medicaid.  Adult Service programs depend on this for funding, so it is very important that it be in place.
  • For young adults with developmental disabilities, notify Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) for adult vocational services.  Note that child service agencies are often different from adult services, and thus it is not always automatic for the adult departments to have the individual registered.
  • Check eligibility for SSI the month the teen turns 18.
  • Determine if teen will be able to make own health care, financial, and life decisions at age 19. Explore least restrictive alternatives, as appropriate.
  • If appropriate begin guardianship procedures during the year the student is 18. Guardianship may be full or limited.
  • Meet and tour adult service agencies and select appropriate service providers.  Note that places usually cannot be held this early, but it may be worth identifying appropriate agencies.
  • Research different models, such as day habilitation, supported vocational, and community based day support.  
  • For graduating students planning to attend college, student contacts campus student disability services to request accommodations, prior to the start of school.
  • Intitiate eligibility process with adult service agencies.  Learn process specific to your state.
  • Begin voting in elections.
  • Investigate SSI Work Incentives.
  • Notify student of rights that will transfer to him/her on reaching the age of majority at least one year before the student reaches the age of majority.

By age 19

  • Youth make their own legal decisions about their life, health care, and finances, unless they have a substitute decision-maker
  • If the teen is not able to make his or her own legal decisions, make arrangements for guardianship.
  • Assessment should be completed for both vocational and assistive technology.
  • Students should be able to define the accommodations they need for vocational or post-secondary placement.

By age 21

  • If your son or daughter continued to attend a public school program after age 18, eligibility ends at the end of the school year in which the student turns 20-22, depending on the state.
  • Can sign up for DDD at any age, the earlier the better.
  • Be sure that discussions about housing are well underway, such as applying for Section 8 or supported housing.


See also From School to College: A Transition Activity Calendar for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired.

transition timeline collage

Total Life Learning by Wendy Bridgeo,‎ Beth Caruso,‎ & Mary Zatta

Cover of Total Life Learning

The Total Life Learning curriculum was developed for students ages 3 to 22 who are blind, visually impaired including those students who have additional disabilities or are deafblind. The focus is on the development of life and career goals that enable student to maximize independence, self-determination, employability, and participation in the community.