Special Needs Students’ Transition from School to Work

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People spend most of their life working than doing any other activity in life. We often place more emphasis on the type of work we do. A job can grant a person a sense of belonging. Swell pride is seen as a sign of an individual accomplishment, and largely has a vast effect on a person’s general life satisfaction. However, getting the right job is not easy, even for a competent person. The case is even more complex for individuals who lack enough training or harbors special needs (Lerner and Brand 2006) thus this call for effective post school transition programs which can form and prepare special needs students to adapt to their new working environments.

The U.S. Department of Education (1999) asserts that schools have an enormous responsibility of preparing students in understanding work life before they graduate. Compared with other students, special needs students face higher unemployment rates, experience job satisfaction and or are underpaid, because of their physical conditions. The physical body condition compels majority of special students to drop out of school before completing their course, therefore making them less equipped in landing meaningful employment.

It is complex to define special needs students. However, Hasazi (1985) explains that special needs students comprise of students from low- income environment; with disabilities, students of color, talented students and English learners among others. Although it is demanding to fix the figure of students with exceptional needs, it is to our information the matter of special students is ever on the increase each year. Special needs students have varied traits and learning experiences. Therefore, discovering a fitting strategy to encompass all of them continues to be a challenge to most schools and relevant stakeholders. Hence, this calls for suggestions, ideas and help in devising new skills to cater for their needs and prepare them for future employment opportunities.

Despite many challenges faced by school in performing transition programs, majority of them have done great effort in addressing this plight. If not all, most of the schools have developed tangible strategies, which have been instrumental in engaging and supporting special needs students. According to Dunn (1996), these strategies have revolved around identifying the strengths and interests of special needs students, and granting them a plan or skills, essential for succeeding in the workplace.

The U.S. Department of Education (1999) shows that one fourth of disabled students complete high school with a diploma. However, U.S. Department of Education (1999), asserts that these students were less likely to forego their studies, and possibly absorbed in the job market if they achieved occupational preparation in high school.

This paper seeks to find out the level of success special needs students posses during the transition from school to work. The writer explores factors such as assessment planning, the role of professionals, parental support, and attitude and self-advocacy among other factors that contribute to the success of special need students’ transition from school to work environment.

Assessment and Planning

Assessment planning contributes to the success of transition program from school to work for special needs students. It is encouraging noting that most schools have developed a comprehensive assessment and planning strategy as a major ingredient for successful school -to -work transition in their education programs. Assessment and planning programs have encompassed a transdisciplinary vocational evaluation tools that integrate community agency staff and school administration into the evaluation process (Wagner, 1993). In identifying suitable assessment and planning strategies, Stodden and Conway (2002) suggest that a team comprising of counselors, teachers, and psychologists, representatives from the community mental or health retardation, and social workers, work in unison to identify fitting transition requirements and strategize properly. However, Stodden and Conway (2002) emphasize that to strengthen evaluation; schools have to include state agencies, parents, business entities, employers and students. Evaluation and planning program supports vocational and educational planning that grants a special needs students to adjust to work environment, and community living.

Comprehensive Assessment Strategies

In assessing special students, the team appointed by the school uses surveys, published tests and directly noting and interviewing a student. This information is used for planning purposes. According to Dunn (1996), the evaluation should address vocational and occupational skills. These skills are essential for evaluating students’ ability to perform a given job “like” task, work models that expose a special needs student to a “likely” job duties and the situational evaluations that gauge a students’ abilities, interests and work ethics in real and artificial work context. Also, the evaluation should address career maturity needs (Lerner and Brand 2006). In career maturity, evaluation attempts to assess the level at which a student posses acceptable know-how of themselves, enough perspective of the work environment and fitting decision making skills.

Role of Professionals

The role of professionals in the evaluation and transition process varies basing on their interests, amount of time one has to the process and the expertise. Most schools appoint the school principal as the leader. They grant him or her the task of reaching out to the community agencies, supporting and promoting the transdisciplinary approach to the evaluation and planning process, and aiding in framing actions and policies deemed pertinent to the process. She or he also gets involved in ensuring that enough resources spared for evaluation and planning. Besides, school principals, special education coordinators and transition coordinators are vital (Phelps and Hanley-Maxwell, 1997). They do share an important role of overseeing the case and progress of each individual student. School psychologists also provide important information about a student. They do this by gathering relevant information about the students in areas such as interpersonal, academic and cognitive skills. This information helps to identify areas which need improvements or support, to aid a student achieve his or her goals. Besides, school psychologists and counselors also aid in collecting data by administering aptitude tests and vocational tests (Stodden and Conway, 2002). The information collected is important in coordinating career path, and linking a special needs student with correct career.

To achieve the student’s needs, schools liaise with state representatives from state offices of vocational mental rehabilitation and social services. These agencies provide essential services such as case management and funding that a student may need when they complete their education. The representatives organize for job training, employment, community life, transport, and education. Dunn (1996), points out that various rehabilitation agencies are involved in helping students secure and keep employment, training special needs students for employment and transitioning them into work environment (Stodden and Conway ,2002). Also, the representative assists students and their parents in filing paperwork and other request to ensure the students have all the required services before leaving school.

School Involvement

The school community and personnel are integral in forming and preparing special students to face the challenges connected to work. They do this through various ways. To achieve this, however, it is chiefly important to understand the working facts of various career developments and the general career aims that prevail at during different stages of a child growth and development. In expressing these objectives, understanding a student’s value interest, “world of work” and decision -making abilities are important (Dunn, 1996). This is because these elements are essential to a student’s ability to design a sensible and informed decision about work. Hence, the school based tasks should revolve around these elements.

School principals are required to promote staff attendance and support transition input through meetings (Lerner and Brand 2006). Teachers spend most time with students; therefore, they are well-informed in forming and fulfilling various students’ goals besides providing important responses and recommendations about strength, weakness and interests of special need students (Wagner et al, 1993). Through support, a teacher contributes significantly in developing a career of a special need student. Further, teachers encompass “real-world” applications in delivering course content and in discussion. The skills taught are used in careers that interest the students. “Real-world” application can also form part of tests and homework, by equipping a student with “real-life work situation (Wagner et al, 1993). Other strategies, can involve inviting guest speakers to speak to students on various careers and the skills needed to achieve these careers is also helpful.

Phelps and Hanley-Maxwell (1997 shows that work experiences or exposure is important in preparing special need students in “real work” environment. Teachers get involved by promoting a “simulated friendly work environment” in classroom. Where students can be improve social skills and increase academic performance. Field trips offer many advantages, a student is exposed to an array of occupations and this helps him or her to make a choice (Phelps and Hanley-Maxwell, 1997). Besides, the school can also allow students to read job bulletins, fill employment forms, write resumes and practice role-playing job interview and present feedback on their performance on these tasks.

Knowledge in Career Development

According to Levinson (2002), a teacher needs to have extensive knowledge on career development theory because it is tied with transitioning from school to work environment. It also provides stakeholders with a timeline to assess student development besides helping professionals to evaluate data by understanding the dos and don’ts expected of a special needs students (child) at different stages and age. It also protects against implementing unrealistic goals for a students; that is, thinking that a student can make a career choice and yet the student is facing challenges about learning her or his coping skills and interests.

Levinson (2002) provides a review of levels and stages special students progress in their career growth process. He explains that at growth stage, which he divides it into fantasy sub-stage usually 0 – 10 years, a student’s imaginations are inclined towards work. At interest sub- stage, 11-12 years, a child develops an all- inclusive self-concept and identifies his or her personal qualities. At this stage, a child also explores various careers, and learns what different kinds of workers do particular jobs.

Levinson (2002) also identifies the capacity sub-stage, which occurs at 13-14 years. He points out the adolescents recognizes individual abilities and values besides developing decision making, planning and problem mitigation skills. In exploration stage, which he classifies under various sub-stages, he describes that at provisional stage, 15-17 years; teenagers become enlightened with their own motivation, identify career choice and set timid goals. In transition, which occurs at 18-21 years, teenagers make informed career choices and learn important skills required for entry-level employment in their chosen career, at trial, the last stage, 22-24 years, young adults are persistent in finding employment in their chosen career of their interests (Levinson, 2002). When teachers have this idea, it is simple to guide special needs students towards work life after school (Levinson, 2002).

Parents Support

Parent’s involvement in a student’s education and career development is important. This is because they understand well about their children’s strengths, goals, aptitudes and weaknesses. Coleman (2000) explores how input contributes in complementing school initiatives towards smooth transition from school to work related environment. They help schools administration in developing specific objectives and goals towards a child future employment. Through school collaboration, parents strengthen their children’s career and vocational explorations by providing informed decisions (Buchanan & Helman, 1993). Such personal experiences motivate and increase child career awareness.

Success in Standard- Based Assessment

Strategies for ensuing students with disabilities meet academic needs of the changing workplaces has been developed by various districts to meet the benchmark of states and districts (Brown and Minor, 1989). The standards for assessment developed for disabled students are similar as those of other students; students with disabilities are granted access to wider education curriculum. This means that teachers have to uphold higher expectations. They should also provide much needed support to disable students if a need arises (Hasazi et al 1985). The support has not only focused on classroom aide and accommodation, but they have created extra time to ensure that the special students are able to compete favorably with their peers. To achieve these strategies, the schools have ensured that the disabled students are granted equal access to assistive technology and computers. Also, the school administration ensures that qualified instructors who understand the course content, and knows how to use special instructional materials in class are available to assist students. These teachers are important because they provide guidance to disabled students on how to recognize the type of accommodation they desire and asking for it suitably (Hasazi et al 1985).

According to Clarke et al (2000), most schools have aimed at ensuring that the appropriate directions translate into winning standards based instructions and supports instruction. This eventually contributes to successful tests performance which is a gateway to forming a disabled student for future career (Clarke et al, 2000). Besides, these steps are necessary in ensuring that all students are granted a fair chance in learning (Coleman, 2000).

To prepare disabled students for future and work environments, the school systems have designed programs which offer specialized programs (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991). This is done after evaluating the already established standardized reforms and placing more emphasis on student’s individual needs. Also it is established by creating a favorable atmosphere that accommodates multiplicity; encourages training and support to augment the capacity of educators to diversify, and funding efforts aimed at reducing challenges (Wagner, 1993).

Attitude and Self-Advocacy

The attitude and advocacy abilities of students with special needs are one of the most essential factors in shaping their success or failure in school. Students with special needs ought to be equipped to work collaboratively with organizations disability coordinators to simplify equal prospect in engaging in the organizations’ program and actions. In ensuring the special needs student’s posses the needed levels of self- support and succeed in school: various institutions have crafted encouraging programs which enables them to; understanding their disabilities (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991).

The schools have endeavored to encourage students to understand the purposeful disabilities that arise because of their disabilities and know the strengths and weakness. Besides, they should also be able to unfold their disabilities to the institutions’ staff or other relevant organization which might be of help. In this process, a student is required to explain where they have encountered challenges in the past, as well as the strategies they applied to overcome such a challenge, and what precise adjustments may seem to work in that specific situation. To support special needs student in this context, school educators have encouraged students to be active and encouraged the practice of amplifying their disabilities besides explaining why they need some services, to appropriate school personnel or through role-playing activities to organize them to engage in such kind of conversation with self-belief in future places of work context.

Bangser (2008) points out another success factor for transition from school to work environment for special needs students is accepting accountability for their own accomplishment. Most schools have encouraged special students to be primary responsible for their own success in schools. By being accountable and responsible in schools, means being responsible during transition period to work related environment (Wagner et al, 1992). To achieve this, special needs students are shifting from the old structures where school administration and parents used to advocate on their behalf; to a structure where they are expected to advocate for themselves. To encourage success factors and enhance students’ responsibility, the school administration through the institution personnel restricts communication with the parents and directs his or her communication with the student directly (Bangser, 2008). Besides, as part of a student responsibility, they are required to complete all the course contents, identify technical and essential academic requirements, useful in addressing future careers and encourage continuous engagement in the school, they are also required to identify any academic adjustments they may need because of their physical condition to achieve the standards required and the strategies of how to achieve these adjustments. Wagner et al (1992) illustrated that in United States for example, special needs students have to understand the federal laws that guarantees them equal opportunity among other students. However, the federal laws are not a guarantee of aiding them to achieve a designated outcome such as good grades while in school (Clarke et al, 2000).

According to Peter (2005) time management skills are essential for special needs students. Although the important role of schools is to provide direction, overseeing and guidance to students, as they progresses with their school work, schools have gone further by preparing students to think independently, and to manage their own precious time with limited or no supervision. This has been achieved through educators assisting students by locating resources that add value as they learn time management and planning skills. These activities are essential during school transition to work environment (Peter, 2005).

Most business tasks in present economy are computer driven; hence acquisition of computer skills is predominantly important to succeed in present work places. It is essentially important for special students to have these skills to be well prepared to encounter the challenges of modern workplaces (Brown and Minor, 1989). It is most gratifying that, most schools have addressed the technological needs of the special students by introducing computer use early in a student’s life, to increase familiarity and to feel comfortable early in life (Peter, 2005). Although students with mobility visual and hearing impairment, may experience challenges with reading or inputting data in a computer systems because of monitor configuration, assistive technology has been applied to help certain special students to use computers efficiently and access information.


Work is a precondition to sustaining livelihood of most people because it provides a sense of accomplishment and worth besides granting overall life contentment. However, a disproportionate percentage of students with special needs face major challenges in gaining satisfying, steady career of their choice. Though a school has endeavored in giving more focus for resources, time and plans in preparing special needs for work; there is much needed from them, to grant a student’s satisfaction. An all-inclusive transdisciplinary advance to planning and evaluation are prerequisite elements of activities that successfully aid elaborate students’ preparation for work and post school life.


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