How can we plan for a student’s post-secondary journey while working on current educational needs?
As a school-based SLP in the secondary setting, I see the importance of creating meaningful transition plans for students with communication disorders. But I can’t address these needs alone. A student’s entire school team needs to understand the importance of this stage in a student’s life. Providing the right kind of support for transitions out of high school can foster growth in social and personal skills, while enhancing carryover of communication learning into employment settings.
This is a critical area of need—especially for students with communications disorders—but not all school-based teams know how to approach developing goals. They also might need guidance in understanding what components they should consider including in transition services. SLPs have the skills to systematically develop transition plans over time and share them with the entire team. We know to base these plans on the student’s communication strengths, challenges, and post-secondary goals.
I often see a disconnect between the student’s transition goals and their communication needs when they are co-dependent targets. SLPs can lead team discussions about a student’s academic and social communication needs and how those needs relate to post-secondary goals. In addition, we work with the student and their family to set meaningful goals.
What to ask
I find the following questions helpful to use with the teams—and to some extent the student and their parents—when making transition plans. These guiding questions evaluate the student’s current abilities, future needs, and opportunities for engagement.
- What are the student’s post-secondary employment or educational goals? How will those settings differ from current academic settings? What vocational or academic specific skills will the student need to succeed in the setting? I like to work with the state’s vocational rehabilitation team to establish the industry-specific skills required for successful employment.
- What successful communication skills can the student carry over to post-secondary settings? What communication skills should the student target to succeed in their desired post-secondary setting? These questions guide the team to consider what goals they should target with the student throughout the school day and at home. For example, a student who can follow two-step directions and ask for help can work on achieving three-step directions or strategies when given a three-step direction. Or, for a student using a visual schedule for navigating their school day, introduce additional visuals that can support them in employment settings.
- What roadblocks will the student face when transitioning to their desired post-secondary setting? This guides the team to set goals such as pragmatic-based skills of working with multiple people, learning how to ask questions in a work setting, and asking for additional information.
- What experiences can we offer students at school and in the community to prepare them for their desired post-secondary setting? This question prompts thinking about school- and community-based exposures to use now. Students can gain experience helping different school-based departments or volunteer opportunities within their community, for example.
- How will the team monitor the student’s communication progress toward reaching goals needed to successfully transition? Creating immediate feedback opportunities and modeling appropriate communication skills for the student is one approach. Frequent progress checks with the team make sure goals meet the student’s long-term transition goals.
Students with communication disorders—academic, pragmatic, and social—require a more systematic approach for transition planning from an earlier stage than typical students.
As an SLP working in secondary settings, I use these guiding questions with every student. They provide information on the student’s current abilities and areas needing work. The questions also allow me to develop useful goals in support of what the students wants to do after high school. I see the best outcomes when I merge academic, social, and employment needs to generate meaningful goals with the student, their family, and the school team. Using the information collected through these questions, we create goals to support skills that will carryover into real-world settings.
Nicole Shaffer, MS, CCC-SLP, primarily serves students in secondary and post-secondary settings. She’s also the dysphagia specialist for her district in southwest Florida. Nicole is an active member of ASHA’s Grasstops Envoy. firstname.lastname@example.org