The transition from childhood to adulthood is a time of increased independence, important life decisions and greater responsibilities.
While this transition may be daunting for most young people, the transition to adulthood for individuals with disabilities can provide greater challenges. Young people with disabilities often have fewer life opportunities and less autonomy than their non-disabled peers. To ensure that individuals with disabilities have a more positive transition, schools are required to follow a standardised procedure called transition planning. This is where key stakeholders meet to prepare for the educational and care needs of the young person once they leave school. In the UK, transition planning begins at fourteen years to ensure adequate preparation of services for the young people when they leave school at nineteen.
I first became aware of transition planning whilst working as a speech and language therapist at a special school for people with severe and complex learning disabilities. In the two and a half years I was at the school, only three of the forty-five young people that I worked with attended their transition meetings, even though the inclusion of young people in their transition planning had been government policy since 1983.
At first it did not occur to me that excluding young people from their planning was wrong. I participated in several meetings where I expressed my views as to what was best for the young people without involving them in the process.
As I spent time forming relationships with the young people, I came to realise that they had the skills and opinions necessary to participate in their transition planning. I began to question why they were not fully included in their meetings: if the young people attended, their involvement was often superficial and they had minimal opportunities to express their views. Furthermore, I doubted whether they understood what was being discussed, and it's importance. I became very aware that the professionals at the meeting made no modification to the way they communicated when the young people were present.
I decided to act to see if there was a way that I could meaningfully include young people with severe learning disabilities in their transition planning. Through studying for my doctoral thesis, I hoped to learn more about how I can support young people to express their thoughts, feelings and aspirations, whilst encouraging professionals to change their practices and to become more inclusive.
I found that the transition process has a system of ideas (schema) which are outlined in government policies of how transition planning should be conducted. Although the policies describe which components should be incorporated in the transition planning process, different institutions meet the requirements with varying levels of creativity . The schema is ultimately adjusted depending on the attitudes and knowledge of the individuals involved.
Traditionally, young people with learning disabilities have been excluded from their transition planning meetings, so the existing schema was very professionally centred. The presence of the young people at the meeting possibly challenged several of the participants as they were unused to including the young people. The attendance of the young people clearly altered the dynamics of the meetings. Some of the teachers and professionals were able to make adjustments to the way they interacted. However, others found it difficult to be responsive. My thesis suggests what changes need to happen to the transition planning process if transition planning is to become truly child-centred.