An Urgent Need for Solutions
The need for services providing lifelong supports for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities has never been greater.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education outline the challenge: There are approximately one million students in the United States currently eligible for services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act categories of intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, autism, traumatic brain injury, and developmental delay. Only about a third of students with intellectual disabilities, two-fifths of those with multiple disabilities and just over half of those with autism are likely to graduate with a diploma. Young adults with the most significant cognitive disabilities are least likely to emerge with a diploma.
Unemployment among people with intellectual or developmental disabilities is more than twice as high as in the general population, according to a recent study conducted by Gallup and the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
Beginning at age 16, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires the development of a transition plan for individuals with developmental disabilities. The goal of the transition plan is to facilitate an individual moving from school to adult living and includes continuing education, work, housing, and community participation. This is both an official process and one of personal discovery. The transition plan is an integral part of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and carries the same legal authority.
Despite this federal call to action, there are very few entities in existence that offer integrated continuing education and independent living support for these maturing children. The limited materials and programs currently available tend to focus on job and life skills but fail to teach students how to explore their own interests, form lasting and meaningful relationships, develop means of communication, build reflective skills and coping strategies, and contribute to their community. These are particularly critical skills for individuals with developmental disabilities to learn so they can maintain a functional level of independence and appropriate interdependence. Also omitted is any meaningful attention to student preferences and goals, despite the wide range in abilities, skills, communication abilities and other challenges.
In too many cases, transition efforts are oriented towards placing individuals in small group homes and employment opportunities that are segregated from the larger world and feature simple jobs with repetitive tasks. Very few are oriented to explore the individual’s strengths, interests, aspirations, and potentials for living and working as a member of the general society. Too often young adults with special needs are guided to make choices that society deems realistic; an approach that is likely to marginalize rather than capitalize on their passions, interests, and potentiality.
And yet, it is clear that it is possible for even the most challenged individuals to create a meaningful life with the right sort of planning, tools and support. Supported communication technologies and other adaptive tools now make it possible for nonverbal individuals to participate in planning for their future, and to contribute their skills, talents and effort to their community.
What is critically needed is an approach that puts the individual at the center of the process. Research shows that the best predictors for positive outcomes of students are community experiences, particularly when self-determination goals are met. Students with disabilities who are self-determined are more likely to be motivated and engaged in goal-directed autonomous behavior that can lead to successful outcomes.
The following videos present a compelling and clear statement of the problem.