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The Journey to Life After High School: A Road Map for Parents of Children with Special Needs

AbilityPath | Dashka Slater
April 2015 | Report/Brief

Not every teenager with special needs will go on to a four- year college, of course. Some will choose community college; some will get vocational training; some will work; some will go into day programs; and some will stay home. Regardless of the path they take, teenagers with special needs will become adults, both physically and legally. For parents, that means preparing for profound changes in nearly every aspect of their children’s lives – and for a sea changes in their own role as well.

Whatever the particulars of your situation, preparing for your child’s transition to adulthood can feel daunting, even over- whelming. Many of the systems that have been in place to support both child and family are poised to disappear. Building a new support structure requires sorting through a maze of options while also learning about a variety of new laws, systems, benefits, and requirements. At the same time, young people with special needs are grappling with the physical and emotional changes brought about by adolescence just like their typically developing counterparts. Their feelings about the future may be complex or even contradictory. Parents too may feel pushed and pulled – not sure how or even whether to help their child move into the world.

“If you start thinking about all that’s required, it’s so huge and overwhelming,” says one mother of a son with ASD. “It’s a monumental undertaking that people with typical children don’t even grasp the enormousness of. It’s critical to have some sort of road map.”

This aims to be that road map. Whether you have a middle schooler (11–14), a high schooler (14–18), or even a young adult (18–26), this is a tool for you to use as you begin planning your child’s transition into adulthood. While it can’t cover every detail or every situation, it will give you an overview of what lies ahead and a list of resources for where to go next. 


The Journey to Life After High School: A Road Map for Parents of Children with Special Needs