Integrating Essential Elements of Person-Centered Transition Planning Practices Into the Development of the Individualized Education Program

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During the period of 1998 - 2000 each of the nine demonstration project sites within the Transition Technical Assistance and Support Program (T-TASP) community received training and support in learning and using an array of person-centered planning approaches to plan for and to provide transition services and supports to students who have been identified as having a developmental disability and to their families. The demonstration sites were comprised of public high schools, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), independent living centers, transition coordination sites and community rehabilitation agencies.

The intent of the project was to build capacity within the demonstration project sites to develop and implement transition-planning processes that incorporated person-centered approaches within them. A secondary focus for the project was to promote systems change by identifying mechanisms, strategies and opportunities beyond the project period through which partnerships and collaborations could be formed to insure the continuation of services and supports that foster meaningful and active transition planning processes with students as they move toward adulthood.
T-TASP further postulated four key premises as the framework for the design and delivery of transition services and supports throughout the grant cycle.

  1. In reference to federal and state legislation that transition services are designed as an outcome-oriented process that takes into account the student’s preferences and interests, (8NYCRR200.1(rr); 34 CFR 3000.18). Toward that end an array of person-centered planning approaches must be used when assisting the student in identifying his or her post-school outcomes.

  1. In accordance with section 614 of IDEA, the formal planning process must reflect the student’s (and family) interests, skills, needs, preferences and abilities and facilitate the involvement and progress of the student in the general curriculum.

  1. Varied new and traditional resources and supports must be sought, created and utilized to ensure the involvement and progress of the student in the general curriculum, including the use of related services to support and maximize the student’s opportunity for success and achievement in the general education classroom.

  1. All students, regardless of their level or type of disability have the right to

    1. a free appropriate public education

    2. determine his or her own future

    3. live, work and play in the real world

    4. hold valued citizen membership roles and be contributing members of communities

Project Participants

The T-TASP project community was comprised of nine distinct demonstration sites each of which identified a primary target goal to be addressed within the project. The nine sites and the primary target goals are:

  1. Brooklyn Center for Independent Living, (BCID), Brooklyn, NY ~ target: 25 students

  2. Chemung County Chapter, NYSARC, Elmira, NY ~ target: 25 students

  3. Eastern Suffolk BOCES, Port Jefferson, NY ~ target: 25 students

  4. Footings, Inc., Monroe, NY ~ target: addressing systems issues

  5. Independent Living, Inc., Newburgh, NY~ target: 60 students and their families

  6. Job Path/Vera Institute, Manhattan, NY~ target: 40 students each year

  7. Johnson City Central Schools, Johnson City, NY~ target: systems change

  8. Monroe #1 and Monroe #2 BOCES, Rochester, NY~ target: 26 students/families

  9. St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES, Canton, NY~ target: 25 students and system impact

SECTION I: An Introduction to Theory of Social Role Valorization and the Accomplishments of Person-Centered Work

Social Role Valorization Theory

Throughout history the design and provision of human services for people who live with disabilities is fraught with attempts to protect, cure and/or overcome the conditions or symptoms that are defined as “disabling.” So much focus is placed on the condition and its subsequent cure that is all encompassing for the person who harbors the disability and for those who are in the business of creating and administering service programs. It quite literally becomes life defining for people and has lead to the global expectation and acceptance of an assumption that people who live with disabilities need highly specialized services and supports so distinct and foreign that they must be administered out of the mainstream of community life.

Wolf Wolfensberger, (1998), articulated a concept for examining societal perceptions of people who are considered to be disabled in the context of service constructs that are developed in an effort to support them. Wolfensberger’s theory depicts the correlation between the value one holds in the eyes of society as the determining factor for one’s ultimate treatment by the very same society. Therefore, if a person is deemed “less valuable” by a culture or society, (due to circumstances such as disability, class or social status, ethnicity, etc), then it is psychologically acceptable to treat that person in ways that reflect the perception, i.e. low quality housing options, poor schooling or no education at all, low paying/low status employment, no employment, etc. Consequently, people can be (and are) perpetually marginalized to the outskirts of society, and beyond. This, according to Wolfensberger, is rational, acceptable and justifiable behavior from the perspective of those who are on the “inside” of the society.
If we are to build communities that are genuinely inclusive of all people, then this marginalizing behavior must stop. One of the ways to stop the practice is to recognize where our actions either help or hinder the acceptance of people into societies. Wolfensberger argues that a person who is perceived to have devalued characteristics and conditions requires that extreme effort must be directed to supporting that person in acquiring and experiencing socially valued roles. His theory of social role valorization would serve as the springboard to person-centered planning.

The Five Accomplishments - Person-Centered Work Principles

History has shown that designers and providers of educational and human services have tremendous influence over the activities that affect the day-to-day experiences and future prospects of the people, families and communities that rely on them, (O’Brien, 1989). Their policies and practices influence critical life-defining experiences including:

  • Where a person lives, learns, earns and plays

  • What activities fill the person’s days

  • Who the person gets to know and who gets to know the person

  • Where and how the person belongs in the community

The fundamental question that should be on the minds of any person in the position of designing or delivering services and supports on behalf of people who are requesting them is “What are we working toward?” Are we invested in perpetuating the myths and stigmata that are currently assigned to persons who hold the label(s) of various disabilities or are we committed to achieving outcomes that are designed to enhance the quality of life of people who are living with disabilities and to enrich our local communities? To what extent do people who rely upon educational and human services experience the following:

Community presence: the sharing of the ordinary places that define community life. What community settings does the person use regularly (daily, weekly, occasionally)?

To which of these places does the person go alone? As part of a group of two or three? As part of a larger group? Does the person have any significant problem using any of these places? What other community settings would it be in the person’s best interest to use, or to use more independently? What would it take to increase the number of community settings the person uses completely? (Consider changes in the person’s skills, changes in available assistance, negotiating changes in the setting or changes in service patterns).

Choice: the experience of autonomy both in small, everyday matters (e.g., what to eat or what to wear) and in large, life-defining matters (e.g., with whom to live or what sort of work to do). What decisions are made regularly by the person? What decisions are made for the person by others? For which of these could decision making be transferred to the person himself or herself? What are the person’s strongest interests and preferences that

create their uniqueness? What would it take to increase the number, variety, and importance of the decisions the person makes? What would it take to increase other’s knowledge of the person’s interests and preferences?

Competence: the opportunity to perform functional and meaningful activities with whatever level or type of assistance is required. What skills could the person develop that would offer the most opportunity for increased presence, choice, respect and participation? What strategies for instruction and assistance have been most effective for the person? Are there more efficient strategies than instruction, such as environmental modification or provision of additional personal assistance? Are there any

health-related threats to the person’s continuing development? How can these be managed effectively with minimal disruption of good quality life experiences? What would it take to increase the person’s competence in more valued activities?

Respect: having a valued place among a network of people and valued roles in community life. What are the valued community roles the person occupies and what percentage of time is spent in each? What community roles offer the person the best opportunity to express individual gifts and talents? What would it take to increase the amount of time the person spends in a valued community role? What images and ideas about a desirable future are available to the person? Does the person display any characteristics that reinforce stereotyped perceptions of people with severe disabilities? (Consider the images projected by activities, schedules, expectations, and the way the person is spoken to and about). What would it take to decrease the stigma the person experiences?
Community participation: the experience of being part of a growing network of personal relationships that include close friends. With whom does the person spend the most time on a daily and weekly basis? How many of these people are other clients/students in the same program? How many of these people are program staff? How many are people with apparent disabilities? Are there other important people in the person’s social network with whom the person spends time occasionally? Who are the person’s friends and allies? Who knows the person intimately? Who will act as an advocate for his or her interests? What would it take to provide better support for the person’s present network of relationships? What would it take to develop more friends or allies? What would it take to increase the number of non-disabled people, including age-peers, who know and spend time with the person as an individual?
Simply put, the underlying values of community-based supports foster opportunities and experiences that allow people to:
Be Somebody!

Go Places!

Have Respect!

Share in Relationships!

Have Choices!
Otherwise know as The Five Accomplishments, (O’Brien, J. & O’Brien, C. 1989).

SECTION II: Transition Planning and Post-School Outcomes: The Road to Inclusion or Segregation? The Imperative of Strength-Based Planning and Assessment

In the book The Magic of Thinking Big David Schwarz (1959) writes the following:
Desire, when harnessed, is power. Failure to follow desire, to do what

you want to do most, paves the way to mediocrity. Success requires

heart and soul effort and you can only put your heart and soul into

something you really desire.

From Judith Snow, (2001):

“To plan is to believe that the future is not already given…”

What Are Post-School Outcomes?
Post-school outcomes are intended to be a reflection of the student’s stated preferences and dreams for their future in the realms of community living, employment and postsecondary education. These written statements are a required component of the New York State Individualized Education Program (IEP), planning process beginning at age 15. The language embedded in IDEA mandates student involvement in transition planning. Imagine the potential within those required outcome statements if they were a true reflection of the heart and soul of the student’s actual desires and that the education program devised a plan that allowed for the student to explore the ins and outs of those desires through experiential and academic learning!
The identification of preferences, interests, desires and dreams is the result of experiencing authentic choice. Webster’s Universal College Dictionary (1997) defines choice as the act or instance of choosing. Choosing is, by definition, the opportunity to select from a number of possibilities; to prefer or decide; to want or desire; to be inclined. Many students with developmental disabilities have not been allowed to participate in determining the direction of the educational programs and services they receive (Wehman & Brown-Glover, 1996) and therefore are not being provided the experiences and opportunities required to make authentic choices, to select from a number of possibilities. The types of choices presented to students with disabilities pass through a system of professionally constructed controls that tend to either be extremely constrained or false (Gothelf & Brown, 1998).
The rationale for the level of control exercised over students with disabilities may come, in part, from the deeply embedded myths that these students lack the capacity to make choices. Additionally, large-scale systems emphasize standardized categories in which to rank and file people according to generalized categories designed to foster equity and efficiency, (Scotch, 2000). More often than not, when children enter schools, the system often presents them with purposes unrelated to their own desires and aspirations ~ to meet the state learning standards, to be ranked high, etc, (Senge, 2000). So that which is being classified as “choice” is actually a limited range of variations of the same general theme. For example, allowing a student to select one of two or three worksheets to complete during a math lesson in the Basic Skills program may be rationalized as an outcome of choice and therefore meet the letter of the law. It is hard to believe that the practice of forced choice (an either-or) decision-making process is what was intended behind the reauthorization of the IDEA, or the intention behind requiring the development of post-school outcome statements.
Why Do Post-School Outcome Statements Matter?
For all students in New York State the information that is used to determine the student’s individualized education program is gathered from the individual evaluation, the annual review and the identification of the student’s present levels of performance. The question of who the student is and what the student wants in life with regard to strengths, needs, interests, expectations, hopes and desires begins to be answered through the process of evaluation. Where the student falls in relationship to what he or she is striving toward also emerges through evaluation and by reviewing the student’s present level of performance, (PLP). As part of this process, the post-school outcomes identified should reflect the student’s aspirations for living, learning and working in the community as an adult. Subsequent planning should result in the development and implementation of services, supports, and educational experiences that serve to identify and address the pathway for moving the student from where they are at any given time (PLP), toward meeting the objectives within the post-school outcome statements. The results of future evaluations and assessments help to determine the progressive next steps that are necessary to continue to facilitate moving the student forward. Thus, the student’s educational program each year is defined by determining the student’s present levels of performance and the post-school outcome statements for transition planning.
The Goals 2000: Educate America Act initiated during the Clinton Administration and the current No Child Left Behind agenda of the Bush Administration are efforts to improve the educational outcomes for all children in the United States. This has led to widespread educational reform across the country and has resulted in an unintended consequence of “high stakes testing,” (Wehmeyer, 2002). The emphasis on high stakes testing and increased graduation requirements may translate into a de-emphasis on work experience and community-based learning (such as community exploration activities, community-based assessments, job trials and other modes of applied learning) at the local level. This threatens to deepen the divide that keeps students with developmental disabilities from participating in general education course work.
Consider Chris…
Chris was an 18 year-old student in a self-contained classroom when a 1997 psychological assessment revealed the following information:
Verbal IQ = 51 Communication (Age Equivalent) = 4.9

Performance IQ = 48 Daily Living (Age Equivalent) = 6.0

Full Scale IQ = 45 Motor Skills (Age Equivalent) = 3.8

Classification: Mental Retardation

Overall Adaptive Level: Low

Additional: Down’s Syndrome

Prone to Behavioral Outbursts

Requires 1:1 Classroom Support

Moderate-Severe hearing Impairment

Limited Verbal and/or Manual Expressive Skills

Limited Receptive Skills
Recommendations: Remain in Life Skills contained classroom until June 1999 to further

Develop daily living skills and pre-vocational skills.

Post-school outcome: Acceptance and attendance in (the local) day habilitation/day treatment


The passage of P.L. 105-17 mandated that a statement of the student’s needed transition services in the areas of instruction, related services, employment, etc., be articulated in the IEP. In Chris’ case, these transition components were related to facilitating a successful transition from his Life Skills class at age 20 to a human service program designed to support individuals who have significant cognitive and/or physical disabilities and/or behavioral concerns. Efforts were taken to link the components of Chris’ IEP to the services the adult service provider could and would furnish in order to create a “seamless” transition between the school environment and the adult day program so that none of the effort put forth throughout the years would be lost. Thus, and without malice or real intention, the perpetual cycle of segregation is complete.
A group of family, friends, school professionals, (including his teacher and speech therapist), and representatives from the selected adult service agency spent a full day with Chris sharing information and analyzing data about his interests, preferences, capacities, skills and support needs in order to strategize the framework for a preliminary individualized service plan (PISP) to be implemented by the adult service provider. The meeting was conducted using a person- centered planning process known as Essential Lifestyle Planning (Smull, 1996) and yielded the following information:


Chris is a person who is very social. He has a great sense of humor and enjoys being around

people who appreciate and contribute to that.
He clearly makes his needs known.

He has many talents and varied interests. He especially likes to keep busy and prefers to do

things that allow him to be physically active.
He prefers to be with people who do not have disabilities.
He enjoys helping others and seeks out opportunities to do this.
He is a hard worker, has a strong work ethic and is quick to learn jobs.
He is sensitive to the feelings and needs of others.
He is joyful and extremely likeable.
He has a deep connection to family, his church and to people he considers to be his

Recommendations: Support Chris in identifying and sustaining valued roles in the

community through supported employment and associational community life, i.e., memberships

and/or volunteerism.

Post-school outcomes:

  • Chris hopes to leave school with a job that reflects and provides opportunities to build upon and expand his interest in working with people and/or with animals in a job that includes physical activity.

  • Chris plans to leave school with the necessary funding structure and agency support already in place to sustain his employment.

  • Chris hopes to have associational community connection and/or memberships prior to leaving school in places that reflect and support his interests.

In addition to seeing Chris through the lens of capacity and talent, the person-centered planning process also revealed information about Chris that shed light on the types of situations, environments, activities, etc., that had a debilitating effect on Chris and which provoked negative reactions from him. Examples of this information include: Chris hates being in crowded, noisy places; he hates “downtime,” or having nothing to do; he hates sedentary tasks; he prefers to be with people who are not disabled, etc. Ironically, most of the variables that served as triggers to negative behaviors for Chris are naturally present within the environment to which he was preparing to transition, and for which he was receiving “individualized” educational support.
In the Nick of Time…
Because section 614 (d)(I)(A)(vii)(II) of P.L.105-17 further clarifies that a “statement of interagency responsibilities and any needed linkages (i.e. vocational rehabilitation), be included in the IEP,” Chris and his family began working with the adult service provider identified in the post-school outcome statement section of Chris’ IEP during his last year of school to insure a smooth transition from school to adult life. The family selected an adult service provider that, in addition to experience in providing person-centered supports, was also knowledgeable about the IEP and transition process for students who have disabilities. Ultimately, Chris, his family and the rest of the members of his CSE crafted an IEP for his remaining year of school that utilized functional assessment as a method for recognizing, encouraging and building upon the unique gifts, capacities, skills, abilities and support needs that Chris brought into and was more than ready to share with the world.
Building the Bridge to Inclusion Using Person-Centered Practices
As history has shown, the problem with most planning methods, including those currently being used to develop the IEP, is that the focus for planning is continually based on what is considered a deficit in the person’s ability to perform in ways that are perceived as typical or normal. Students are assessed and evaluated against the “standard” of perceived normalcy and strategies are developed as interventions to fix what is wrong with the person (Forest, Pearpoint, Falvey & Rosenberg, 1997). This sets the stage for perpetuating social acceptance of and expectation for communities made up of “us” and “them” and maintains a structure that supports the devaluation of one group (those in need of “fixing”) over another (those who seemingly do not)(Wolfensberger, 1998). On the assumption that the person is not quite “normal” it becomes quite acceptable for people to exercise varieties of discrimination, through which the stigmatized person’s life chances become greatly reduced (Goffman, 1963) as the ideology for segregating this person from the general mass is encouraged. A former student, Mitchell Levitz, (Kingsley & Levitz, 1994) talks about his high school experience in his book Count Us In: Growing Up with Down Syndrome:
I don’t know how to say this – but I’d rather think of myself as normal than as a disability. In school, the guys I hang around with, I earn their respect. I want to be part of the gang. I want to put my disability on the (in)side and the cool side of me out…and then I think of myself as normal….(pp. 48-49).
The need to feel that one belongs is a basic human need and one that must be met before a person can achieve a sense of self-worth. Abraham Maslow (1970) argues that belonging is an essential prerequisite to achieving a sense of self-worth. Belonging is the backbone of inclusion. In special education the practice is generally one in which students must acquire certain skills as a prerequisite to inclusion in the general education curriculum. Perhaps if educators gave up this notion of prerequisite skills, even temporarily, in favor of providing opportunities for students with disabilities to be “one of the kids” in the regular classroom, students with special learning needs would be motivated through the avenue of belonging to learn new and necessary skills (Kunc, 1992), and perhaps those students otherwise classified might be more inclined to make room for the learning to take place.
The art of facilitating inclusion involves working creatively with a heightened sense of awareness that directs energy toward problem solving that promotes reconsideration of boundaries, relationships, structures and benefits (O’Brien & O’Brien, 1995). One such reconsideration comes from an eminent leader in the disability community, Judith Snow, who suggests that rather than seeing an individual who has a disability label as a problem or in need of some sort of rehabilitation or needing to be separate from others, Snow challenges people to think of all people as “gifted.” She argues that all human beings are replete with giftedness, though some may be missing ordinary gifts (such as the ability to use his or her legs for walking). Our charge is to discover along with the person what his or her gifts are and to find places and be among people where gifts that are both ordinary and extraordinary can be recognized, appreciated and reciprocated through meaningful interaction, (Snow, 1998).
Although each demonstration site within the T-TASP project community typically used a variety of methods to facilitate person-centered transition planning and foster inclusion, primary approaches unique to the individual site emerged. Project-specific summaries can be found in the appendix of this document, but the general core of unique focus for each site can be noted in the following:
Job Path focus: increase community membership roles using Personal Futures Planning process as a mechanism for identifying and defining interests, skills, preferences and abilities for the development and implementation of the IEP.
Monroe Boces 1 & 2 focus: increase family/caregiver involvement in the transition process using person-centered planning tools. Develop a person-centered tool to enhance the development of the IEP, incorporate family involvement and establish teams of support during and beyond the student’s transition from school to adult life.
BCID focus: outreach to schools further out in the boroughs of NYC in an effort to broaden the spectrum of transition services and supports to the students and families prior to a student’s leaving school to ensure that access to appropriate resources was obtained.
Chemung ARC focus: provide up-front service coordination and referral to adult service provider(s) in an effort to develop sustainable services and supports to appropriate resources prior to the student’s transition from school.
Johnson City School focus: classroom instruction integrated with group community outings in an effort to initiate awareness about the student’s rights and responsibility in the development and implementation of a self-determined IEP and the transition process.
Independent Living focus: increase self-determination through the facilitation and development of a person-centered personal profile that served as a springboard for transition planning activities; initiation of peer and family educational groups that served as peer support and; increase knowledge of and access to adult services to build community networks and resources prior to and during the student’s transition from school.
Eastern Suffolk BOCES focus: increase access to technology for students so that they could access and utilize information relative to the development and customizing of their IEP through an on-line resource developed through the school. School personnel were provided training and technical support in person-centered planning and its applicability to the defining of the unique interests, skill, abilities and support needs of students in transition.
St. Lawrence BOCES focus: develop a cadre of mentor-trainer-facilitators who would become experts in the development and implementation of person-centered transition planning and would replicate training throughout nine counties with students, care givers and school personnel. Consequently, a protocol within the system for person-centered transition planning was developed and distributed throughout all of the districts.
Footings, Inc. focus: to build collaborative partnerships between and within existing service systems and natural community resources to ensure access to the appropriate supports and services for the student and for the family/caregivers prior to the student’s transition from school and to establish proactive responses to the provision of school and community services to students through the development and implementation of the student’s IEP/transition process.
Person-centered planning provides a forum through which a person’s giftedness can be discovered and explored. There are a variety of tools available for person-centered planning. The selection of which tool to use depends upon the purpose for the planning effort. Regardless of the tool that is chosen, however, all person-centered planning processes embed the following practices and/or principles within the framework of the tool (O’Brien & Lovett, 1992):

Person-Centered Planning Processes:

  • Focus on the gifts, talents, capacities, interests and preferences

of the person who is at the focus of the planning effort

  • Include people who know, love and who care about the person

  • Strive to create positive community roles with persons living with disabilities

  • Requires commitment to shared action

  • Requires a willingness to do things differently

  • Rely on a facilitated process

Authentically administered person-centered practices seek to know and seek to understand the person in order to be of genuine service to that person. Authenticity in person-centered approaches carries with it an openness to being guided by the person and, among other things, to look for the good in people and to help to bring that out through designing services and supports born of flexibility, creativity and a willingness to try what might be possible, including innovation, experimentation and unconventional solutions, (Kendrick, 2000). Given this, person centered planning is a necessary step in the development of a student’s IEP if schools are going to meet state and federal mandates to identify the student’s unique interests and preferences. When used in combination with the transition-planning components of the IEP, the outcomes can be life altering.

Reconsider Chris…
The school district from which Chris transitioned took the recommendations and post-school outcome statements, (previously long-term adult outcomes), very seriously following the facilitation of his person- centered plan. Chris spent the remainder of his school year and part of the next engaged in the following activities:

  • Chris became a member of the local YMCA where he plays basketball, swims, lifts weights, etc.

  • Chris established connections with critical adult service providers, i.e. the New York State Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID), the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) and the adult service provider agency selected to coordinate needed services.

  • Chris experimented in a variety of paid employment positions in order to determine areas of vocational interest and skill via collaboration between the school district and the adult service provider agency.

  • Prior to leaving school, Chris accepted paid employment in two part-time jobs: he became the assistant sexton in the church he and his family had attended for years; he became a general staff member at a local Pizza Hut restaurant. Chris currently works a third job as a host in a neighborhood diner.

  • Chris began exchanging stable hand services at a local horse stable in lieu of riding lessons.

  • Chris opened a bank account and began to learn basic principles of money management.

Chris “transitioned” to a day service set of activities that were customized to support these and other activities prior to his leaving school. A snapshot of his day looks like this: Chris arrives to his day program where he is met by his job coach. He then works until lunch at any one of his (now) three jobs. He returns to the center where he has lunch with various staff members. He then spends the afternoon involved in community-based activities reflective of his interest, such as swimming, horseback riding, weight lifting, etc. He arrives back at the center in time to get his ride home. He has been out of school almost two years and he is still employed with his original employers in addition to accepting yet a third part-time position.

Person-centered transition planning enabled Chris to bypass the road leading to segregation and disempowerment. Today, Chris enjoys varied valued social roles. He is an employee, a volunteer, co-worker, an athlete, a friend. He holds membership in many organizations, including his church and the YMCA. Chris is just one example of how person-centered planning processes and practices, when infused into the development and implementation of the IEP, fosters the kind of teamwork approach that enables educators to fulfill the goal of teaching…to facilitate the education of young people toward assuming the role of responsible and contributing citizens in society.
Person-centered planning provides the framework in which to support the student’s involvement across the range of variables that increase the likelihood of leading toward success. The essence of person-centered planning and practice is to find ways to listen closely to people with disabilities and to those who care deeply about that person so that we might better understand his or her dreams and despairs in an effort to walk the path with the person toward their desired future.
Person-centered planning is both a philosophy and a set of tools for practical application in listening and learning. Person-centered planning processes and practices force us to re-examine our existing belief systems, commitments and investments not only in the way we see and work with students and adults who are living with disabilities but in the way in which we view one another and the world at large.

SECTION III: Infusing Student-Driven Practices into the Development of the IEP

Recent research (Sands, Bassett, Lehmann & Spencer 1998) designed to reveal the important variables leading to student involvement in transition-related activities yielded the following information:

The school environment is particularly important in facilitating active student involvement in transition-related activities provided that 1) students receive their special education services in general education classrooms and 2) students participate in general education classes. Additionally, students engage in transition-related activities more readily when they are involved in their own planning and evaluation processes.
Four variables of significance emerged regarding student-specific impacts: 1) the perception the teacher held of the student’s job-related competence; 2) the student’s ability to self-regulate his or her own behaviors; 3) the student’s social skills; and 4) the student’s engagement in transition-related social, work and educational opportunities.
Finally, the research suggests that the role of the family impacted the level of student involvement in his or her transition-related activities. Students tend toward active involvement if the home environment is democratic and non-controlling and when families hold a positive value for student involvement in the school-based planning process.
What follows is a closer look at the relationship that exists between person-centered planning and the coordinated set of activities in the development of the Individualized Education Program, (IEP). Figure 1 depicts the essential components, or hallmarks, of all person-centered planning processes.

Hallmarks of Person-Centered Planning:

  • Activities, services and supports are based on the individual’s dreams, interests, preferences, strengths and capacities

  • People who know and who care about the person are included in the planning process

  • The individual is provided with authentic and meaningful choices with decisions that are based on experiential learning

  • The person uses naturally occurring resources and supports

  • Activities, services and supports facilitate opportunities to build and sustain meaningful personal relationships, inclusion in communities, enhance the person’s dignity and opportunities to have his or her contributions valued, appreciated, respected and reciprocated

  • There is a commitment to try what might be possible through being creative, flexible and open

  • Planning is a collaborative process and involves an on-going commitment to the person

  • The person is satisfied with his or her relationships, home, school and work life
Figure 1

Figure 2 outlines the sequence of events leading to the development of a student’s IEP. Each of the events identified articulates the criteria or components that must be present within the sequence. Each step includes a list of suggested activities that may be used to gather pertinent information relevant to this component.

Potential Assessment Instruments for use in the Evaluation

  • Student Questionnaire

  • Family/Guardian Questionnaire

  • Transition Planning Inventory

  • Pre-Meeting Discussion

  • Vocational Assessment

  • Interest or Aptitude Testing

  • Community Experience

  • Activities of Daily Living Assessment

Present Levels of Performance (PLP)

  • L

    • Academic or educational achievement

    • Physical Development

    • Social Development

    • Behavior Management
    earning Standards

  • SCANS Skills

  • Student’s Strengths and Abilities

  • Parent/Guardian Concerns

  • Special Considerations

  • Progress in Past Year

  • Needs, Preferences, Interests, Abilities

  • Areas in Need of Support

  • General Education Needs

  • What Has Been Tried: What Has Worked/What Has Not Worked

  • Transition Service Needs

Post-School Outcomes (PSO, formerly Long-Term Adult Outcomes)

  • Beginning at age 15

  • S



    tated in Student’s Own Words

  • Dreams/Aspirations for the Future

  • Across the Three Areas of Transition (living, learning, earning)

  • Initially General ~ Becoming More Specific Over Time

  • Outcome–Oriented Process

Annual Goals

  • Address Needs Identified in the PLP and PSO

  • Quantifiable, Observable

  • One Year From Now

  • Focus on Foundation Skills, Behaviors and Strategies (Not Curriculum Content)

  • Based on Performance Indicators to Meet Learning Standards Areas

Short-Term Objectives/Benchmarks

  • Identifies Interim Skills or Knowledge Student Needs to Reach Annual Goals

  • Includes Evaluation Criteria, Procedure and Schedule

  • Quantifiable, Observable

Programs, Services, Modifications

  • Identifies Support Services to Facilitate Progress Toward Goals

  • Related Services are Identified

  • Articulation of Need for an Extended School Year

  • Assistive Technology

  • Supplementary Aides and Services

  • Testing Accommodations, Including Alternate Assessments

Least Restricted Environment Considerations

  • Access to General Education

  • Career and Technical Education or School-to-Work Participation

  • Extracurricular Activities to Address Social and Self-Advocacy Skills


  • Based on Results, Progress, Etc., Determine Placement

  • Review Progress Toward Meeting Diploma Requirements

  • Address Transportation Needs

  • Determine Evaluation Criteria

The Coordinated Set of Activities is another section of the IEP that includes: instruction, related services, employment or other post-school outcomes, community experiences, and when appropriate, functional vocational assessment and activities of daily living (ADL).

Figure 2

Figure 3 overlays the distinct components of figures 1 and 2 into one schemata and places the essential elements of Figure 4 in the center. The external portion of the figure shows four key statements from the perspective of the student that are intended to drive the entire process: Who I Am; Where I am Going; What I Need to Know (to get there); and How I Will Get There. These four statements are key to career and transition planning. These statements are qualified by the hallmarks of person-centered practices and processes that are best supported within the context of the statement. The circular component of the diagram displays the sequence of events articulated in the establishment and implementation of the IEP process. Finally, the central box in the diagram indicates the questions that must be asked regularly in order to keep the process moving forward and incorporating what is being learned into everyday practice.

What Have We Tried?
What Have We


What Do We Need/

Want To Learn?

What Do We Need/

Want to Try?

Trying what might be possible

Flexible, creative opportunities

Meaningful activities

Valued social & community roles

Applied learning






Integration of Student-Centered/Person-Centered Practices in the Development and Implementation of the IEP Figure 3

Present Levels of






People who care







Meaningful choices

Desires, dreams

Making friends

Sharing Gifts


Experiential learning

Annual Goals
Personal Satisfaction


1   2   3   4   5   6

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