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Innovations in Post-High School Education for Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities





Innovations in Post-High School Education for Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities .

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What happens to students who have received special education services when the high school years have ended?  More and more, those with mild to moderate learning disabilities go off to community and four-year degree programs.  However, for a sizable number of high school graduates of special education traditional academics are not a fit. Many of these young adults are left with too little to do, and they have no idea of how to move forward. They watch with dismay as classmates and siblings leave for exciting new lives at college, and can sink into a sense of discouragement and loneliness.

One option that has emerged over the past ten years or so is to enroll in a university-affiliated program that provides vocational training, educational, and leisure learning experiences within a college campus environment. These programs provide young adults with experiences and challenges inherent in living away from family, within a supportive and supervised setting. Students learn to get along with others, to independently do routine personal tasks and chores, to make choices and decisions, and to engage with the larger community. Such programs focus on developing job skills and habits, career exploration, academic learning for everyday life and personal development, and community living skills.   Think College.net  is a clearinghouse of information about these programs, as well as educational options to help with preparing for and utilizing these kinds of programs.

Residential post-high school educational programs just make sense, as they provide the natural progression of developmental tasks that traditional college does for typically developing young adults. It is ridiculous to expect high school transition programs to fully prepare students with intellectual disabilities to launch into independent lifestyles  by age 18 to 21 years, when the vast majority of their classmates do not accomplish this feat! The post-secondary educational process is just as much about giving people time and opportunities to develop socially and emotionally as it is about formal education. Young adults with disabilities can benefit from these opportunities, as indicated by emerging research that indicates that graduates have significantly higher odds of being employed.

In these times of budget trimming, these innovative programs are at risk of losing their funding, just two years  into their 5-year grant cycle (see “Obama’s Budget Leaves Funding Unclear for Disabled College Students”). These programs are generally quite young, and it will be a shame if we do not give them the time to gather the data needed to evaluate their effectiveness in moving students into more independent, fulfilling lifestyles. We need to find out if, by investing tens of thousands of dollars in this kind of post-high school education, we save hundreds of thousands in costs related to caring for individuals who have not had support to learn more self-sufficiency.  Not to mention the priceless value of helping individuals attain daily lives that they find fulfilling and worthwhile, rather than restricting them to lives characterized by isolation and boredom.

Jeff Bradford, director of the TPSID project at the University of Kentucky had it right when he identified this as a matter of civil rights. I hope that there will be a groundswell of support to preserve and maintain full funding for these newly-implemented programs, so that they have a chance to show their outcomes, thus allowing a fair and accurate assessment of their worth. I feel a letter to my state and federal representatives coming on, and I hope that you do, too!