The same day our son David exited school on a special education diploma at age 22, he moved into his own condo. My husband Ted and I had planned for this day since David was 16, but we expected the move to be another long transition. Nope. When school was over, he was ready to start his new life.
Cooking & Cleaning Lessons
One source of his comfort with moving out was the “practice apartment” we set up for him in our finished basement starting at age 20. Some years earlier, he had moved downstairs to a bedroom with his own bathroom. Now we put in a mini-fridge, microwave and hot plate so he could learn to cook simple meals. We taught him to vacuum, clean the bathroom, shop for groceries, and wash his clothes. Dirty socks left on the floor? Not such a priority.
We also focused on skills for navigating the community. Wallet safety was a goal, because David has issues with small motor skills and basic math. He used to pull out a wad of bills and coins to pay for things, slowly count out what he needed, then leave the checkout counter with his change in one fist, a purchased item in the other fist, and the wallet tucked under his arm. This annoyed people who were lined up behind him and made him an easy pickpocketing target. We eventually switched to a debit card for most purchases. (That meant teaching him not to type in his pin number while announcing it out loud!)
Housing and Financial Matters
We purchased a small, inexpensive condo on a walkable street next to the bus line. He learned to ride the bus as an IEP goal. Some years later, he got a smart phone with Lyft and Uber apps, which give him much more flexibility. A state Medicaid program for adults with developmental disabilities reimburses his transportation expenses up to $200 a month. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) once paid part of his daily living expenses, though after Ted took Social Security at age 65, David qualified for the much more generous Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) program as a disabled adult dependent. (Learn more in a report from or from this Social Security Administration publication.)
Building Team David
Meanwhile, as the clock was ticking to his school exit date, we began to build Team David, a support network of paid part-time workers who interact with David on a regular basis. Team David started with two social workers who gave us respite on a few nights and weekends when he was 16.The day he left school at age 22, five Team David members were there to cheer for him. Today there are nine regular members who each work on average 8-16 hours per month, including a team leader who handles scheduling and payment. David has a monthly calendar on his fridge, so he always knows who’s coming when.Most Team David members work in the local school districts and HeadStart program, including four classroom teachers, a social worker, and a speech pathologist. It’s like a small business: We have an inexpensive online payroll system and carry worker’s comp insurance. Several members have been with us for more than ten years, so they are invested!
The Bridge to Everywhere
A transition plan can easily become a paper bridge to nowhere. At every IEP meeting in his last years of school, we kept asking, “How does this (goal/objective/placement) get us to our Big Picture by the end of high school?” Focusing on David’s Big Picture–breaking it down into a list of skills to be learned and creative problems to be solved—made a huge difference in transition planning. He felt more confident, and we did, too. There were so many frustrations, but it was possible to see tangible progress toward a clear goal. For all of us, it built a bridge to everywhere.