Promoting Excellence in Transition Programs for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Promoting Excellence in Transition Programs for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota

Principal Investigators: Renata Ticha, Ph.D. and Brian Abery, Ph.D.

ICI Project Staff: Roqayah Ajaj, Jean Hauff, James Houseworth, Julie Kramme, Seunghee Lee, Matthew Roberts, John Smith, Emily Unholz-Bowden

Funded by Administration for Community Living Administration on Disabilities

Project of National Significance: Community Collaborations for Employment Program

Five adults gathered around a young man who is sitting on an industrial size riding lawn mower. He is talking to the group, and is wearing jeans, a purple t-shirt, a neon yellow vest, and has short brown hair.
Exploring Transition in Minnesota logo. The logo is a blue arrow moving clockwise in the shape of a circle.

Purpose and Aims

  • Transition programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are designed to help them meet their goals after graduation. Little is known about how these programs are carried out.
  • We are conducting a landscape analysis of the experiences of youth with IDD in their transition from high school to adulthood. We are especially interested in programs in Minnesota.

Research Question

How do transition programs prepare students with IDD for life after high school (i.e., employment, higher education, community living, leisure)?

This project is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota's Institute on Community Integration; Minnesota state agencies including the Department of Employment and Economic Development, the Minnesota Department of Education, and the Department of Human Services; Minnesota employment agencies including Inclusive Networking and Kaposia; Minnesota advocacy agencies such as The Arc and Advocating Change Together; The Minnesota DD Council, Centers for Independent Living, and Disability Law Center; Utah State University's Institue for Disability Research, Policy, and Practice; Minnesota Inclusive Higher Education Consortium (MIHEC), and Minnesota LEAs/transition programs including Minneapolis, ISD 196, Benton-Stearns, and Northern Lights.

The Community Landscape Analysis

  • The landscape analysis includes several phases, all using different ways to gather information about different transition experiences and processes.
  • We are using Kohler’s Taxonomy for Evaluating Transition Programs as a way to organize the information we are gathering. We collected data from four Minnesota transition programs via multiple methods:
    • Site visits for transition programs to learn about the following:
      • The kinds of places students with IDD are going to get some work experience
      • How students are matched to jobs
      • The coaching process for the students
    • Focus groups with family members, educators, and support staff to learn about the following:
      • How each of these groups see the challenges and strengths of transition programs
      • What students are being taught to prepare for adulthood
      • How ready the staff are to provide transition services
      • What parents know, do not know, and how involved they are with their students’ transition
      • The kinds of resources being provided to students and their families
    • Interviews with students and alumni of transition programs to learn about the following:
      • Their experiences in transition programs
      • Their goals after they graduate
      • How they are/were working toward these goals
This visual is a circle that contains the five main pillars of the Taxonomy for Transition Programming and each pillar's subcomponents. Starting from the top right of the circle, the first pillar is Family Engagement, which includes family involvement, family empowerment, and family preparation. Moving clockwise, the second pillar is Program Structures, which includes program characteristics, program evaluation, strategic planning, policies and procedures, resource and development and allocation, and school climate. Next, the third pillar is Interagency Collaboration, which includes collaborative framework and collaborative service delivery. Continuing toward the left side of the circle, the fourth pillar is Student Development, which includes assessments, academic skills, life, social, and emotional skills, employment and occupational skills, student supports, and instructional context. Lastly, the fifth pillar is Student-Focused Planning, which includes IEP development, planning strategies, and student participation.
  • Other phases of the landscape analysis will include (1) a survey that the same group of students, family members, and educators will complete several times to see how things are changing, (2) a project for students with IDD to take photos that express their experiences of becoming an adult, and (3) an evaluation of the Minnesota Youth in Transition Toolkit.

This visual shows the Minnesota transition framework, that defines high-quality transition programming. The visual has multiple layers. At the center is the target of the framework, youth in transition. Surrounding "youth in transition" are four learning domains. At the top is Best Life, in which students will "use skills to envision and advocate for their best life." To the right is Employment, in which students will "find competitive, integrated work they enjoy." At the bottom is Postsecondary Education and Training, in which students will "obtain industry-recognized credentials." Finally, to the left is Independent Living, in which students will "successfully live as independently as possible." Surrounding the learning domains are three key elements: learning expectations, shared practices, and guiding principles. Finally, surrounding the three key elements are common goals for implementation, including aligned practices, coordinated services and supports, family partnerships, and consistent expectations.

Preliminary Results from the Site Visit Data

Four main themes were identified through an analysis of the data gathered so far:

  1. Student Development: Some programs do have well-researched activities to prepare students for education/employment. Others have limited resources to help students develop the skills they will need after they graduate.
  2. Interagency Collaboration: Some programs work well with agencies that provide a variety of different learning opportunities for students. Some examples are programming self-driving vehicles, developing new applications, and Python programming. Other programs collaborate with agencies, such as thrift stores and grocery stores, that provide a limited range of work opportunities for students. There are not enough chances for students to grow or to develop their employment skills. For example, in some programs, vocational rehabilitation counselors are only available once a week. In other cases, students move from one type of job to another every 6 weeks or so, which limits the time students have available to develop skills in one setting before moving to another.
  3. Program Structure: Some programs were concerned with being culturally competent and went so far as to hire a cultural liaison.
  4. Family Engagement: Some programs especially value parent involvement and making sure families receive enough information and resources for their students. In fact, one of the programs hired cultural liaisons to ease communication between parents and the program. This is intended to help strengthen relationships with families and get them involved in their student’s goals.
This visual is a bar graph showing preliminary information about the types of work-based learning experiences of students in transition programs. The x-axis is labeled "position type" and the y-axis is labeled "percentage across positions". Across the 256 positions listed by the four collaborating transition programs, sixty-six percent of them involved building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations, thirty-two percent involved transportation and material moving occupations, eight percent involved food preparation and serving related occupations, seven percent involved office and administrative support occupations, three percent involved sales and related occupations, one percent involved personal care and service occupations, and one percent involved production occupations.