Placement of Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder into Employment

Posted on March 03, 2011

Photo: Some rights reserved by BenChenowethWork

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There is a purpose behind all behavior. Because we look at the behavior of others through the lens of our own background and experience, it may be difficult to understand the motivation of another person, but there will always be a purpose. To understand the behavior of students with autism, we need to know how these students experience their worlds.

Some of the early indicators of autism include:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Lack of joint attention (e.g. engaging with another person in attending to an item, topic, or person)
  • Lack of reciprocal conversation
  • Atypical sensory/motor processing

Look at the videos of these two children.

The first is a two-month old, Bentley Ann, with low risk of autism spectrum disorder.  Although she does not have words, she is engaging in reciprocal conversation with her mother.

This second video is of a three year old, Mason. (See article in Essential Educator, “What Do You Mean by Red Flags? A Parent Perspective on Discovering Their Child’s Disability” by Rachel Johnson). He has little desire to interact with his mother or siblings or share their attention to the birthday gift.

These early developing differences lead to host of characteristics and deficits that Barry Grossman and Ruth Aspy of The Ziggurat Model, refer to as the base of the iceberg. We see the tip of iceberg, the observable behaviors. But we can only begin to understand our students when we look below the waterline to what lies underneath. Some of the characteristics we may observe at the base of the iceberg include:

  • Impaired theory of mind
  • Sensory differences
  • Weak central coherence
  • Executive dysfunction
  • Difficulty processing non-verbal communication
  • Poor auditory processing
  • Areas of intense interest
  • Gross and fine motor deficits
  • Fear, anxiety, and depression

Impaired theory of mind: There is a well-known psychological test called the “Sally-Anne” test. You can try this yourself with your students on the spectrum. Show the child a simple skit involving two girls, Sally and Anne. Sally has a basket and Anne has a box. While Sally is out of the room, Anne takes the marble out of the basket and puts it in her box. Ask the children where Sally will look for the marble when she returns to the room. Young children and many children of any age with autism will answer “Anne’s box.” They have difficulty imagining someone not knowing what they know. (Baron-Cohen, Leslie & Frith, 1985). It is a challenge for some individuals with autism to understand that other people have ideas, feelings, and thoughts that are different from theirs. This is also referred to as “mindblindness.”

Some of the behaviors that arise from Theory of Mind deficits are:

  • Lacks the ability to take the perspective of another person in real life or in literature
  • Makes comments that seem rude
  • Misinterprets the intentions of others, is easily taken advantage of
  • Less inclined to “people pleasing” behaviors, such as doing a difficult task to please a parent or teacher

Sensory differences:

Students with autism may be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to all sensory stimuli; auditory, visual, vestibular, proprioceptive, olfactory, taste, and tactile. They may seek out or avoid stimuli in any of these areas.

Some of the behaviors that may arise from sensory issues are:

  • Will only eat a narrow list of foods
  • Avoids the playground or gym
  • Refuses to go outside in very warm or very cold weather
  • Loves to jump, swing, or spin

Weak central coherence:

Weak central coherence refers the inability to get the “big picture.”  Individuals with autism may be gifted at perceiving details but often do not “see the forest for the trees.”

This trait may be connected to the student’s inability to “generalize” a skill, or apply a skill learned in one setting to a different setting.  A student may be able to verbalize and demonstrate a social skill in a small group with a school counselor yet not be able to transfer that skill to the classroom or playground setting.

Some of the behaviors that may come from weak central coherence are:

  • The inability to generalize skills from one setting to another
  • The inability to summarize information or get the main idea of text
  • Inability to distinguish minor problems from major problems

Executive dysfunction:

In individuals with autism, there may be abnormalities in the areas of the brain that are responsible for executive functioning activities.  These include: goal-oriented behavior, organizing assignments and personal belongings, planning the completion of multi-step projects, maintaining attention, and controlling impulses. Some evidence of this deficit might be:

  • The failure to bring the necessary materials to class
  • The inability to plan for the completion of assignments
  • Difficulty focusing attention on instruction
  • Impulsive actions or comments
  • The failure to see how doing a task contributes to a larger goal

Difficulty processing non-verbal communication:

Because of the early lack of inclination to attend to social information, students with autism may fail to learn how to “read” non-verbal communication.  They may fail to see when another person is angry, bored, or frustrated by deciphering body language.

This deficit may be displayed by:

  • Failure to “repair” communication break-down when another person has been offended
  • Continuing to talk on topic of interest when the other person is no longer interested

Auditory processing disorders

Students with autism tend to take language very literally and miss innuendo, sarcasm, metaphors and idioms. They also have trouble focusing on and processing language.  According to the article in the November issue of Science Translational Medicine, researchers at UC San Diego and Johns Hopkins studied the brain function of typical individuals and those with autism during language tasks. In typical children, there was connectivity between the frontal lobe and other areas of the brain, including the left side of the brain, which is involved with language.  In those participants with autism, there was less connectivity to other parts of the brain and more activity within the frontal lobe itself  “almost as if it’s talking to itself.” The result is a failure to derive meaning from spoken langauge.

Some behaviors resulting from this aspect of autism are:

  • An inability to shift attention to the teacher’s speech
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Inability to maintain focus on lectures

Areas of intense interest:

One of the most fascinating aspects of autism is the area of intense interests.  They might be common fascinations (trains, dinosaurs, or Sponge Bob) or very unique (odometers or sprinkler heads). They are often quite narrowly focused (large ships that sank or the subway system of Boston). These interests may dominate their conversation and monopolize their thoughts.  Frequently, they can be used as rewards, springboards for learning new material, or an opportunity to excel in a field of study.

Some behaviors that stem from this characteristic may include:

  • Difficulty transitioning away from area of interest
  • Difficulty shifting conversation to topics other than their area of interest.

Gross and fine motor deficits:

Motor skills are normally divided into two domains: gross motor skills which involve large-scale coordinated activities such as playing basketball or walking and fine motor skills which involve small-scale activities such as writing or tying shoes.  Students with autism may show deficits in either area or both.  Some behaviors you may observe from this characteristic include:

  • Difficulty with handwriting
  • Poor athletic ability
  • An awkward gait

Fear, anxiety, and depression:

Temple Grandin, autism self-advocate and author, has stated that fear is the main emotion of individual with autism.  Researchers at UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute (Amaral & Corbett, 2002) have hypothesized that the abnormalities in the amygdala of individuals with autism may contribute to their “abnormal fears and increased anxiety.”  Individuals with autism are at increased risk for depression (Tantam, 1991). They may exhibit poor concentration, and thoughts and/or comments about suicide. Not only is depression more common in students on the spectrum, their means of dealing with it, such as talking it out with another person or asking for help, are more limited.

This fear, anxiety, and depression may be exhibited by:

  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Rage reactions or “meltdowns”
  • Difficulty coping with changes in the environment
  • Suicidal thoughts and comments

This is far from a complete list of underlying characteristics in individuals with autism, but it includes many of those commonly connected with behaviors we see in the school setting. These characteristics are not choices.  They are brain-based differences that affect many areas of functioning. Temple Grandin stated, “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a good teacher.” There may be no group of students who are more in need of educated understanding than those on the spectrum. While many behaviors will remain a mystery to us, having an educated understanding of the “underside” of the iceberg will bring most of them into clearer vision.  Although, these students face many obstacles, they also have many amazing abilities.  Many of the advances we enjoy in our modern society are attributable to individuals who, diagnosed or not, were somewhere on the spectrum. As we gain more understanding and work together, we will be able to appreciate these remarkable children and young adults and nurture their potential.

AuthorCathy Longstroth, Program Specialist, Utah Personnel Development Center [UPDC]

References:

The Amygdala, Autism and Anxiety David G. Amaral, Ph.D.1,2 and Blythe A. Corbett, Ph.D. 2 June, 2002. Department of Psychiatry, Center for Neuroscience and California Regional Primate Research Center

Autism Advocate,2007, The CAPS and Ziggurat Models. www.texasautism.com/WorkshopFiles/AdvocateZigguratCAPS.pdf

Baron-Cohen S, Leslie AM, Frith U (1985). “Does the autistic child have a ‘theory of mind’?” (PDF). Cognition 21 (1): 37–46.

The M.I.N.D. (Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) InstituteUniversity of California, Davis, Center for Neuroscience, 1544 Newton Ct., Davis, CA, 95616

Schumann CM, Hamstra J, Goodlin-Jones BL, Lotspeich LJ, Kwon H, Buonocore MH, Lammers CR, Reiss AL, Amaral DG. Department of Pediatrics, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697-1385, USA. jjuranek@uci.edu

Tantam, D. (2000). Psychological disorder in adolescents and adults with Asperger syndrome. Autism, 4(1), pp. 47-62. Read Abstract
I was fortunate to travel between Midwestern snowstorms and spend the holidays with my grandchildren in St. Louis.  While I was there, cure Libby (aged almost 6) frequently donned roller skates and skated around the house.  When I asked her why she was doing that, order she replied “I need to practice.”  Of course, dosage I had to ask the follow-up question, “Practice for what?”  Her response was “For when I grow up and get a job at Sonics”.  This proud Nana’s expectations for her granddaughter’s achievements plummeted.  Where had she ever come up with this idea?  As her brother William (just turned 8 years old) said “She’s never even been to Sonics!”  Fortunately for Nana’ pride, William’s desired occupation is to be an archeologist.

As I returned to work after the holidays, I started thinking about my reaction to Libby’s stated “postsecondary employment goal” as compared to William’s.  As a transition specialist, I remind parents and educators that the transition plan must include postsecondary goals that are developed around the student’s preferences and interests, yet here I was, devastated because Libby had chosen a goal that I didn’t feel was “right” for her!  It took much thought and many conversations with myself (and my ego!) to realize that, right now, at this moment, the goal of becoming a Sonics car hop may be reasonable and appropriate for her – it just wasn’t right for me!

Will William and Libby change their minds as they go through school?  Probably.  Will they achieve their postsecondary employment goals, whatever goals they set?  Hopefully.  William might end up fulfilling his desires to dig in the dirt by being a farmer or his fascination with bones by becoming a technician in a natural history museum; Libby might end up owning the whole Sonics Corporation.  It doesn’t matter; what matters is that these two kids set goals based on their interests; we as their family guide them in setting, reviewing, and revising their goals; and the school helps them learn the skills they need to achieve their goals.

Our responsibility to the students with whom we work is similar – we need to guide them as they move to the next levels in school and life and we need to help them learn the skills they need to be successful at those levels.  We need to discuss individual students’ and their families’ hopes, dreams and expectations and use those discussions as a basis for planning and refining programs to teach individual students skills needed for the next level.  We need to do this as professionals without judging goals as “good” or “bad” based on our personal values.  I hope that this Special Educator Monograph “Transition from A to Z” will serve as a resource as you work with students, young adults, and families who are making the journey from “A to Z”.

To a large extent, sick professionals in special education and vocational rehabilitation (VR) have been on parallel courses for decades yet with curiously similar goals: successful post-school outcomes (particularly employment) for individuals with disabilities. Born out of different forms of federal legislation, side effects the two fields developed largely as separate systems. Because their only connection was transition-age youth with disabilities preparing for employment, perhaps it was easier to remain focused on other concerns (e.g., early childhood and elementary education in inclusive settings for special educators; rehabilitation and employment of adults with psychiatric, drug dependence, and other disabilities for VR counselors). And then, when the systems became overburdened with decreased funding and increased caseload and class sizes, they had every reason to focus on their own survival and not each other. In fact, the overburdening of both systems made it easy to assume the other group would provide transition and employment services for adolescents. Perhaps this is where necessity is the “mother of invention.” For the welfare of youth in transition, it is sheer necessity for special educators who work in transition to gain knowledge and strength by turning to their colleagues in VR. They can perform better as teachers given support by rehabilitation counselors in learning how to prepare youth and their parents for transition. Also, it is sheer necessity for VR counselors to gain knowledge and strength by turning to their colleagues in special education. They can become active and essential participants in transition planning leading to successful employment closures for young adults with disabilities (Oertle & Trach, 2007).

The research literature presents a clear case: interagency collaboration between special educators and VR professionals results in successful outcomes. Morningstar, Kleinhammer-Tramill, and Lattin (1999) reviewed 13 studies identifying best practices in transition planning and concluded that the key ingredient was interagency collaboration, especially between special education and rehabilitation. Hayward and Schmidt-Davis (2000) found that 63% of youth with disabilities who applied (or whose parents applied) for VR services successfully achieved an employment outcome, compared to 49% who obtained employment without VR services. In this study, employment was associated with less need to rely on financial assistance (Social Security Income), higher levels of self-esteem, and more internally-based focus of control (Hayward & Schmidt-Davis, 2000). Wehman and Targett (2002) found that young adults with disabilities who had received rehabilitation counseling had increased career guidance and higher employment rates compared to young adults without such services.

A collaborative working relationship can ease the workload for both special educators and VR counselors. Collaboration can also produce much-needed outcome data for both special education and VR. The special education teacher produces a young adult with employment or post-secondary educational opportunities and the VR counselor facilitates a successful employment placement. Along the way, special educators learn concepts and procedures from the VR counselor to simplify and facilitate their transition efforts. For example, they learn about Work Opportunity Tax Credits and what it means to employers who hire young adults with disabilities. They learn about benefits planning (e.g., Impairment Related Work Expenses, etc.) and other important information to communicate to parents about future work incentives. They learn about how to approach an employer to promote employment of a young adult with a disability, not from the “right thing to do” perspective but by providing an employee who will fill a critical need of the employer. VR counselors learn about task analysis, on-the-job training, data-based decision making, prompt fading, and numerous teaching strategies that special educators use to achieve independent performance. They learn behavior intervention strategies, including ways to increase and decrease behavior applicable to counseling sessions.  But most important, young adults with disabilities are the benefactors; they are more likely to gain employment because of collaborative efforts of special educators and rehabilitation counselors.

Barriers separating the fields have been intransigent, dating back to the 1980s if not earlier (Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985). If the barriers were simple to remove, it would have happened. Therefore, before recommending a collaborative relationship, specific barriers deserve closer inspection. Understanding of the nature of the barriers will lead to more targeted solutions. Agran, Cain, and Cavin (2002) described results of separate but “mirror-image” surveys completed by 54 special educators and 62 rehabilitation counselors to identify transition barriers. The sample was drawn largely from Utah teachers and rehabilitation counselors. Almost half of rehabilitation counselors reported they had never been asked to attend a transition services IEP even though they had transition-age youth on their caseloads. For those who had attended IEP meetings, 62% indicated they had not played an integral role. Many respondents indicated they had not received information on the youth in transition prior to the meeting and felt like they had nothing to offer. Because transition legislation is regulated by the Office of Special Education Programs, rehabilitation counselors did not perceive the need for their direct involvement in transition services. About half of special education respondents indicated they rarely invited rehabilitation counselors to IEP meetings for transition-age youth. Note, however, that this study pre-dated the 2004 re-authorization of IDEA. The majority of special educator respondents indicated they did not know how to engage rehabilitation counselors in discussion leading to achieving employment for youth in transition. Further, they acknowledged they did not provide information prior to the meeting to inform VR counselors of individual needs. Information from an individual’s educational file cannot, of course, be distributed without prior signed release from the parent/guardian. Finally, some special educators and rehabilitation counselor respondents felt intimidated because they did not understand terms and the freely used acronyms of the other system.

From these data, barriers begin to take on better definition and scope. Perhaps, potential solutions begin to take form as well. The following list delineates some of the barriers and potential solutions. Obviously, solutions are untested at this time.

Barrier 1: Rehabilitation counselors are not being invited to transition services IEP meetings nor are they provided information on an individual’s needs allowing them to prepare as active participants. Potential solution: Not only should rehabilitation counselors be invited, they need information. If acceptable given school district policies, teachers may want to seek parent signature releasing limited information to rehabilitation counselors prior to the meeting, such as current IEP goals, relevant assessment results, interests and preferences, etc. Teachers may want to send a note to the counselor about how the meeting will be conducted (i.e., will the youth direct the meeting or will the teacher and youth work together?), who will serve as team members, and what transition process/outcome may be sought. Please remember that with such large caseloads, it may require setting the appointment a few weeks ahead of time in order to find an open spot in the VR counselor’s schedule. To help with scheduling, it is also helpful to have the IEP meetings at a consistent day and time to the extent possible.

Barrier 2: Once at the meeting, rehabilitation counselors are not being actively engaged as participating team members. Potential solution: the teacher may want to provide the rehabilitation counselor with a list of transition questions prior to the meeting. Although these questions may evolve into different ones at the meeting, they will provide the rehabilitation counselor with a starting point for active engagement. Teachers or the youth need to introduce all team members and make them feel comfortable and confident that they are necessary contributors to the process.

Barrier 3: Research makes frequent reference to team members dispersing after IEP meetings thus placing primary responsibilities on the special education teacher. Potential solution: before the meeting concludes, the team leader should make assignments with “check in dates” and ask all members to be responsible for certain tasks.

Barrier 4: Special educators and rehabilitation counselors speak different languages. Potential solution: create a vocabulary list. In IEP meetings and in conversations, avoid acronyms; spell out the term and explain what it means.  Respect the listener’s need and desire to understand. A partial list appears below:

Term                                                                        Definition

IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) A document outlining the specific special education and related services to be provided a student with disabilities, including present level of performance, goals, objectives, and services.
IPE (Individual Plan for Employment) A rehabilitation document that describes one’s employment goal, date for meeting goal, services needed, who will pay for services, and who provides the services. For students with disabilities who are receiving special education services from a public school and also are determined eligible for VR services, the IPE should be completed and signed before the student leaves the school setting (Szymanski & Parker, 2003).
Transition planning inventories Instruments to identify strengths and needs of various aspects of adult living, including employment, postsecondary education, independent living, interpersonal relationships, and community living (National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center, 2010).
Reasonable accommodation A logical adjustment to a job and/or work environment that enables a qualified person with a disability to perform the duties of that position (West, 1991). Accommodations include modifying the physical layout of a job facility to make it accessible, restructuring a job to enable the person with a disability to perform the essential functions, or establishing a modified work schedule (Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990).
Job analysis Gathering objective, and complete data on what the worker does on a particular job, how the work is done, results of the work (e.g., goods produced, services rendered), characteristics of the worker, and context of the work (Materials Development Center, 1982).
Task analysis Breaking down particular job tasks into component parts or sequences (Westling & Fox, 2009).
Transferable skills analysis An assessment of knowledge and skills used on one job that can be used on another job.
Ticket to Work/Work Incentives Improvement Act Legislation designed to remove many of the barriers that previously influenced people’s decisions about going to work because of the concerns over losing health care coverage. The goal of the Ticket Program is to increase opportunities and choices for Social Security disability beneficiaries to obtain employment and VR (http://www.yourtickettowork.com/program_info).
Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE) For eligible individuals, IRWE means that certain impairment-related items and services do not count against one’s gross earnings.
Work Opportunity Tax Credit A Federal tax credit incentive provided to private-sector businesses for hiring individuals from twelve target groups, including individuals with disabilities. The objective is to enable the employees with disabilities to gradually move from economic dependency into self-sufficiency, while the participating employers are compensated by reducing their federal income tax liability. (http://www.doleta.gov/business/incentives/opptax/).
DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles) A source of occupational information using a 9-digit classification system to classify occupations (Szymanski & Parker, 2003).
O*NET (Occupational Information Network) An online database for career exploration and job analysis http://online.onetcenter.org/).

Barrier 5: Special educators and rehabilitation counselors do not have a single meeting opportunity where they can engage each other in meaningful dialogue. Potential solution: Contact the Utah State Office of Education or Utah State Office of Rehabilitation for a sample of opportunities. One such opportunity is the Utah Effective Practices Conference held annually (June 20-23, 2011) on the campus of Utah State University. Many special educators and rehabilitation counselors have collaborated and developed relationships.

In Utah the designated agency for vocational rehabilitation services is the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation (http://www.usor.utah.gov). Most communities have a local office with a VR counselor. If you do not know your VR counselor, give your local USOR office a call and set up a time to meet.

With burgeoning caseloads and diminishing adult services, young adults with disabilities and their families need all the support they can get to achieve successful post-school outcomes. More than ever, achieving employment means that professionals must work together. It is imperative that special educators and rehabilitation counselors create meaningful working relationships (i.e., specifying roles and responsibilities, setting timelines for completion of tasks, reporting on task completion) for the welfare of young adults in transition to employment.

Authors: Bob Morgan, Jared Schultz, and Tracy Woolstenhulme, Utah State University
To a large extent, mind professionals in special education and vocational rehabilitation (VR) have been on parallel courses for decades yet with curiously similar goals: successful post-school outcomes (particularly employment) for individuals with disabilities.  Born out of different forms of federal legislation, the two fields developed largely as separate systems.  Because their only connection was transition-age youth with disabilities preparing for employment, perhaps it was easier to remain focused on other concerns (e.g., early childhood and elementary education in inclusive settings for special educators; rehabilitation and employment of adults with psychiatric, drug dependence, and other disabilities for VR counselors).  And then, when the systems became overburdened with decreased funding and increased caseload and class sizes, they had every reason to focus on their own survival and not each other.  In fact, the overburdening of both systems made it easy to assume the other group would provide transition and employment services for adolescents. Perhaps this is where necessity is the “mother of invention”.  For the welfare of youth in transition, it is sheer necessity for special educators who work in transition to gain knowledge and strength by turning to their colleagues in VR.  They can perform better as teachers given support by rehabilitation counselors in learning how to prepare youth and their parents for transition.   Also, it is sheer necessity for VR counselors to gain knowledge and strength by turning to their colleagues in special education.   They can become active and essential participants in transition planning leading to successful employment closures for young adults with disabilities (Oertle & Trach, 2007).

The research literature presents a clear case: interagency collaboration between special educators and VR professionals results in successful outcomes.  Morningstar, Kleinhammer-Tramill, and Lattin (1999) reviewed 13 studies identifying best practices in transition planning and concluded that the key ingredient was interagency collaboration, especially between special education and rehabilitation.  Hayward and Schmidt-Davis (2000) found that 63% of youth with disabilities who applied (or whose parents applied) for VR services successfully achieved an employment outcome, compared to 49% who obtained employment without VR services.  In this study, employment was associated with less need to rely on financial assistance (Social Security Income), higher levels of self-esteem, and more internally-based locus of control (Hayward & Schmidt-Davis, 2000).  Wehman and Targett (2002) found that young adults with disabilities who had received rehabilitation counseling had increased career guidance and higher employment rates compared to young adults without such services.

A collaborative working relationship can ease the workload for both special educators and VR counselors.  Collaboration can also produce much-needed outcome data for both special education and VR.  The special education teacher produces a young adult with employment or post-secondary educational opportunities and the VR counselor facilitates a successful employment placement.  Along the way, special educators learn concepts and procedures from the VR counselor to simplify and facilitate their transition efforts.  For example, they learn about Work Opportunity Tax Credits and what it means to employers who hire young adults with disabilities.  They learn about benefits planning (e.g., Impairment Related Work Expenses, etc.) and other important information to communicate to parents about future work incentives.  They learn about how to approach an employer to promote employment of a young adult with a disability, not from the “right thing to do” perspective but by providing an employee who will fill a critical need of the employer.  VR counselors learn about task analysis, on-the-job training, data-based decision making, prompt fading, and numerous teaching strategies that special educators use to achieve independent performance.  They learn behavior intervention strategies, including ways to increase and decrease behavior applicable to counseling sessions.  But most important, young adults with disabilities are the benefactors; they are more likely to gain employment because of collaborative efforts of special educators and rehabilitation counselors

Barriers separating the fields have been intransigent, dating back to the 1980s if not earlier (Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985).  If the barriers were simple to remove, it would have happened. Therefore, before recommending a collaborative relationship, specific barriers deserve closer inspection.  Understanding of the nature of the barriers will lead to more targeted solutions.  Agran, Cain, and Cavin (2002) described results of separate but “mirror-image” surveys completed by 54 special educators and 62 rehabilitation counselors to identify transition barriers.  The sample was drawn largely from Utah teachers and rehabilitation counselors.  Almost half of rehabilitation counselors reported they had never been asked to attend a transition services IEP even though they had transition-age youth on their caseloads. For those who had attended IEP meetings, 62% indicated they had not played an integral role.  Many respondents indicated they had not received information on the youth in transition prior to the meeting and felt like they had nothing to offer.  Because transition legislation is regulated by the Office of Special Education Programs, rehabilitation counselors did not perceive the need for their direct involvement in transition services. About half of special education respondents indicated they rarely invited rehabilitation counselors to IEP meetings for transition-age youth.  Note, however, that this study pre-dated the 2004 re-authorization of IDEA.   The majority of special educator respondents indicated they did not know how to engage rehabilitation counselors in discussion leading to achieving employment for youth in transition.  Further, they acknowledged they did not provide information prior to the meeting to inform VR counselors of individual needs.  Information from an individual’s educational file cannot, of course, be distributed without prior signed release from the parent/guardian.  Finally, some special educators and rehabilitation counselor respondents felt intimidated because they did not understand terms and the freely used acronyms of the other system.

From these data, barriers begin to take on better definition and scope.  Perhaps, potential solutions begin to take form as well.  The following list delineates some of the barriers and potential solutions.  Obviously, solutions are untested at this time.

Barrier 1: Rehabilitation counselors are not being invited to transition services IEP meetings nor are they provided information on an individual’s needs allowing them to prepare as active participants.  Potential solution:  Not only should rehabilitation counselors be invited, they need information.  If acceptable given school district policies, teachers may want to seek parent signature releasing limited information to rehabilitation counselors prior to the meeting, such as current IEP goals, relevant assessment results, interests and preferences, etc.  Teachers may want to send a note to the counselor about how the meeting will be conducted (i.e., will the youth direct the meeting or will the teacher and youth work together?), who will serve as team members, and what transition process/outcome may be sought.  Please remember that with such large caseloads, it may require setting the appointment a few weeks ahead of time in order to find an open spot in the VR counselor’s schedule. To help with scheduling, it is also helpful to have the IEP meetings at a consistent day and time to the extent possible.

Barrier 2: Once at the meeting, rehabilitation counselors are not being actively engaged as participating team members.  Potential solution: the teacher may want to provide the rehabilitation counselor with a list of transition questions prior to the meeting.  Although these questions may evolve into different ones at the meeting, they will provide the rehabilitation counselor with a starting point for active engagement.   Teachers or the youth need to introduce all team members and make them feel comfortable and confident that they are necessary contributors to the process.

Barrier 3: Research makes frequent reference to team members dispersing after IEP meetings thus placing primary responsibilities on the special education teacher.  Potential solution: before the meeting concludes, the team leader should make assignments with “check in dates” and ask all members to be responsible for certain tasks.

Barrier 4:  Special educators and rehabilitation counselors speak different languages. Potential solution:  create a vocabulary list.  In IEP meetings and in conversations, avoid acronyms; spell out the term and explain what it means.  Respect the listener’s need and desire to understand.  A partial list appears below:

Term                                                                        Definition

IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) A document outlining the specific special education and related services to be provided a student with disabilities, including present level of performance, goals, objectives, and services.
IPE (Individual Plan for Employment) A rehabilitation document that describes one’s employment goal, date for meeting goal, services needed, who will pay for services, and who provides the services.  For students with disabilities who are receiving special education services from a public school and also are determined eligible for VR services, the IPE should be completed and signed before the student leaves the school setting (Szymanski & Parker, 2003).
Transition planning inventories Instruments to identify strengths and needs of various aspects of adult living, including employment, postsecondary education, independent living, interpersonal relationships, and community living (National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center, 2010).
Reasonable accommodation A logical adjustment to a job and/or work environment that enables a qualified person with a disability to perform the duties of that position (West, 1991). Accommodations include modifying the physical layout of a job facility to make it accessible, restructuring a job to enable the person with a disability to perform the essential functions, or establishing a modified work schedule (Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990).
Job analysis Gathering objective, and complete data on what the worker does on a particular job, how the work is done, results of the work (e.g., goods produced, services rendered), characteristics of the worker, and context of the work (Materials Development Center, 1982).
Task analysis Breaking down particular job tasks into component parts or sequences (Westling & Fox, 2009).
Transferable skills analysis An assessment of knowledge and skills used on one job that can be used on another job.
Ticket to Work/Work Incentives Improvement Act Legislation designed to remove many of the barriers that previously influenced people’s decisions about going to work because of the concerns over losing health care coverage. The goal of the Ticket Program is to increase opportunities and choices for Social Security disability beneficiaries to obtain employment and VR (http://www.yourtickettowork.com/program_info).
Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE) For eligible individuals, IRWE means that certain impairment-related items and services do not count against one’s gross earnings.
Work Opportunity Tax Credit A Federal tax credit incentive provided to private-sector businesses for hiring individuals from twelve target groups, including individuals with disabilities. The objective is to enable the employees with disabilities to gradually move from economic dependency into self-sufficiency, while the participating employers are compensated by reducing their federal income tax liability. (http://www.doleta.gov/business/incentives/opptax/).
DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles) A source of occupational information using a 9-digit classification system to classify occupations (Szymanski & Parker, 2003).
O*NET (Occupational Information Network) An online database for career exploration and job analysis

http://online.onetcenter.org/).

Barrier 5:  Special educators and rehabilitation counselors do not have a single meeting opportunity where they can engage each other in meaningful dialogue.  Potential solution:  Contact the Utah State Office of Education or Utah State Office of Rehabilitation for a sample of opportunities.  One such opportunity is the Utah Effective Practices Conference held annually (June 20-23, 2011) on the campus of Utah State University.  Many special educators and rehabilitation counselors have collaborated and developed relationships.

In Utah the designated agency for vocational rehabilitation services is the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation (http://www.usor.utah.gov).  Most communities have a local office with a VR counselor. If you do not know your VR counselor, give your local USOR office a call and set up a time to meet.

With burgeoning caseloads and diminishing adult services, young adults with disabilities and their families need all the support they can get to achieve successful post-school outcomes.  More than ever, achieving employment means that professionals must work together. It is imperative that special educators and rehabilitation counselors create meaningful working relationships (i.e., specifying roles and responsibilities, setting timelines for completion of tasks, reporting on task completion) for the welfare of young adults in transition to employment.
To a large extent, about it professionals in special education and vocational rehabilitation (VR) have been on parallel courses for decades yet with curiously similar goals: successful post-school outcomes (particularly employment) for individuals with disabilities. Born out of different forms of federal legislation, the two fields developed largely as separate systems. Because their only connection was transition-age youth with disabilities preparing for employment, perhaps it was easier to remain focused on other concerns (e.g., early childhood and elementary education in inclusive settings for special educators; rehabilitation and employment of adults with psychiatric, drug dependence, and other disabilities for VR counselors). And then, when the systems became overburdened with decreased funding and increased caseload and class sizes, they had every reason to focus on their own survival and not each other. In fact, the overburdening of both systems made it easy to assume the other group would provide transition and employment services for adolescents. Perhaps this is where necessity is the “mother of invention”. For the welfare of youth in transition, it is sheer necessity for special educators who work in transition to gain knowledge and strength by turning to their colleagues in VR. They can perform better as teachers given support by rehabilitation counselors in learning how to prepare youth and their parents for transition. Also, it is sheer necessity for VR counselors to gain knowledge and strength by turning to their colleagues in special education. They can become active and essential participants in transition planning leading to successful employment closures for young adults with disabilities (Oertle & Trach, 2007).

The research literature presents a clear case: interagency collaboration between special educators and VR professionals results in successful outcomes.  Morningstar, Kleinhammer-Tramill, and Lattin (1999) reviewed 13 studies identifying best practices in transition planning and concluded that the key ingredient was interagency collaboration, especially between special education and rehabilitation. Hayward and Schmidt-Davis (2000) found that 63% of youth with disabilities who applied (or whose parents applied) for VR services successfully achieved an employment outcome, compared to 49% who obtained employment without VR services. In this study, employment was associated with less need to rely on financial assistance (Social Security Income), higher levels of self-esteem, and more internally-based locus of control (Hayward & Schmidt-Davis, 2000). Wehman and Targett (2002) found that young adults with disabilities who had received rehabilitation counseling had increased career guidance and higher employment rates compared to young adults without such services.

A collaborative working relationship can ease the workload for both special educators and VR counselors. Collaboration can also produce much-needed outcome data for both special education and VR. The special education teacher produces a young adult with employment or post-secondary educational opportunities and the VR counselor facilitates a successful employment placement. Along the way, special educators learn concepts and procedures from the VR counselor to simplify and facilitate their transition efforts. For example, they learn about Work Opportunity Tax Credits and what it means to employers who hire young adults with disabilities. They learn about benefits planning (e.g., Impairment Related Work Expenses, etc.) and other important information to communicate to parents about future work incentives. They learn about how to approach an employer to promote employment of a young adult with a disability, not from the “right thing to do” perspective but by providing an employee who will fill a critical need of the employer. VR counselors learn about task analysis, on-the-job training, data-based decision making, prompt fading, and numerous teaching strategies that special educators use to achieve independent performance. They learn behavior intervention strategies, including ways to increase and decrease behavior applicable to counseling sessions.  But most important, young adults with disabilities are the benefactors; they are more likely to gain employment because of collaborative efforts of special educators and rehabilitation counselors.

Barriers separating the fields have been intransigent, dating back to the 1980s if not earlier (Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985).  If the barriers were simple to remove, it would have happened. Therefore, before recommending a collaborative relationship, specific barriers deserve closer inspection. Understanding of the nature of the barriers will lead to more targeted solutions.  Agran, Cain, and Cavin (2002) described results of separate but “mirror-image” surveys completed by 54 special educators and 62 rehabilitation counselors to identify transition barriers. The sample was drawn largely from Utah teachers and rehabilitation counselors. Almost half of rehabilitation counselors reported they had never been asked to attend a transition services IEP even though they had transition-age youth on their caseloads. For those who had attended IEP meetings, 62% indicated they had not played an integral role. Many respondents indicated they had not received information on the youth in transition prior to the meeting and felt like they had nothing to offer. Because transition legislation is regulated by the Office of Special Education Programs, rehabilitation counselors did not perceive the need for their direct involvement in transition services. About half of special education respondents indicated they rarely invited rehabilitation counselors to IEP meetings for transition-age youth. Note, however, that this study pre-dated the 2004 re-authorization of IDEA. The majority of special educator respondents indicated they did not know how to engage rehabilitation counselors in discussion leading to achieving employment for youth in transition. Further, they acknowledged they did not provide information prior to the meeting to inform VR counselors of individual needs. Information from an individual’s educational file cannot, of course, be distributed without prior signed release from the parent/guardian. Finally, some special educators and rehabilitation counselor respondents felt intimidated because they did not understand terms and the freely used acronyms of the other system.

From these data, barriers begin to take on better definition and scope. Perhaps, potential solutions begin to take form as well. The following list delineates some of the barriers and potential solutions. Obviously, solutions are untested at this time.

Barrier 1: Rehabilitation counselors are not being invited to transition services IEP meetings nor are they provided information on an individual’s needs allowing them to prepare as active participants. Potential solution: Not only should rehabilitation counselors be invited, they need information. If acceptable given school district policies, teachers may want to seek parent signature releasing limited information to rehabilitation counselors prior to the meeting, such as current IEP goals, relevant assessment results, interests and preferences, etc. Teachers may want to send a note to the counselor about how the meeting will be conducted (i.e., will the youth direct the meeting or will the teacher and youth work together?), who will serve as team members, and what transition process/outcome may be sought. Please remember that with such large caseloads, it may require setting the appointment a few weeks ahead of time in order to find an open spot in the VR counselor’s schedule. To help with scheduling, it is also helpful to have the IEP meetings at a consistent day and time to the extent possible.

Barrier 2: Once at the meeting, rehabilitation counselors are not being actively engaged as participating team members. Potential solution: the teacher may want to provide the rehabilitation counselor with a list of transition questions prior to the meeting. Although these questions may evolve into different ones at the meeting, they will provide the rehabilitation counselor with a starting point for active engagement. Teachers or the youth need to introduce all team members and make them feel comfortable and confident that they are necessary contributors to the process.

Barrier 3: Research makes frequent reference to team members dispersing after IEP meetings thus placing primary responsibilities on the special education teacher.  Potential solution: before the meeting concludes, the team leader should make assignments with “check in dates” and ask all members to be responsible for certain tasks.

Barrier 4:  Special educators and rehabilitation counselors speak different languages. Potential solution:  create a vocabulary list.  In IEP meetings and in conversations, avoid acronyms; spell out the term and explain what it means.  Respect the listener’s need and desire to understand.  A partial list appears below:

Term                                                                        Definition

IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) A document outlining the specific special education and related services to be provided a student with disabilities, including present level of performance, goals, objectives, and services.
IPE (Individual Plan for Employment) A rehabilitation document that describes one’s employment goal, date for meeting goal, services needed, who will pay for services, and who provides the services.  For students with disabilities who are receiving special education services from a public school and also are determined eligible for VR services, the IPE should be completed and signed before the student leaves the school setting (Szymanski & Parker, 2003).
Transition planning inventories Instruments to identify strengths and needs of various aspects of adult living, including employment, postsecondary education, independent living, interpersonal relationships, and community living (National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center, 2010).
Reasonable accommodation A logical adjustment to a job and/or work environment that enables a qualified person with a disability to perform the duties of that position (West, 1991). Accommodations include modifying the physical layout of a job facility to make it accessible, restructuring a job to enable the person with a disability to perform the essential functions, or establishing a modified work schedule (Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990).
Job analysis Gathering objective, and complete data on what the worker does on a particular job, how the work is done, results of the work (e.g., goods produced, services rendered), characteristics of the worker, and context of the work (Materials Development Center, 1982).
Task analysis Breaking down particular job tasks into component parts or sequences (Westling & Fox, 2009).
Transferable skills analysis An assessment of knowledge and skills used on one job that can be used on another job.
Ticket to Work/Work Incentives Improvement Act Legislation designed to remove many of the barriers that previously influenced people’s decisions about going to work because of the concerns over losing health care coverage. The goal of the Ticket Program is to increase opportunities and choices for Social Security disability beneficiaries to obtain employment and VR (http://www.yourtickettowork.com/program_info).
Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE) For eligible individuals, IRWE means that certain impairment-related items and services do not count against one’s gross earnings.
Work Opportunity Tax Credit A Federal tax credit incentive provided to private-sector businesses for hiring individuals from twelve target groups, including individuals with disabilities. The objective is to enable the employees with disabilities to gradually move from economic dependency into self-sufficiency, while the participating employers are compensated by reducing their federal income tax liability. (http://www.doleta.gov/business/incentives/opptax/).
DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles) A source of occupational information using a 9-digit classification system to classify occupations (Szymanski & Parker, 2003).
O*NET (Occupational Information Network) An online database for career exploration and job analysis

http://online.onetcenter.org/).

Barrier 5:  Special educators and rehabilitation counselors do not have a single meeting opportunity where they can engage each other in meaningful dialogue.  Potential solution: Contact the Utah State Office of Education or Utah State Office of Rehabilitation for a sample of opportunities.  One such opportunity is the Utah Effective Practices Conference held annually (June 20-23, 2011) on the campus of Utah State University. Many special educators and rehabilitation counselors have collaborated and developed relationships.

In Utah the designated agency for vocational rehabilitation services is the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation (http://www.usor.utah.gov). Most communities have a local office with a VR counselor. If you do not know your VR counselor, give your local USOR office a call and set up a time to meet.

With burgeoning caseloads and diminishing adult services, young adults with disabilities and their families need all the support they can get to achieve successful post-school outcomes. More than ever, achieving employment means that professionals must work together. It is imperative that special educators and rehabilitation counselors create meaningful working relationships (i.e., specifying roles and responsibilities, setting timelines for completion of tasks, reporting on task completion) for the welfare of young adults in transition to employment.

Authors: Bob Morgan, Jared Schultz, and Tracy Woolstenhulme, Utah State University

MH
Students’ experiences in their first year of high school often determine their success throughout high school and beyond. However, stuff more students fail ninth grade than any other high school grade.

Students who are promoted to tenth grade, cure but who are off track—as indicated by failed grades, a lack of course credits or a lack of attendance during their ninth-grade gateway year—may have already missed the opportunity to get on a graduation track.

Statistics

The following statistics highlight a noticeable trend in the lack of progress of many students throughout freshman year. Many students are held back in ninth grade—creating what is known as the ninth grade bulge—and drop out by tenth grade—contributing to the tenth grade dip.

• Students in ninth grade comprise the highest percentage of the overall high school population because students in disproportionate numbers are failing to be promoted out of ninth grade. Promotion rates between ninth and tenth grade are much lower than rates between other grades (Wheelock & Miao, 2005).

• The ninth grade bulge is illustrated by the following numbers:enrollment figures show 4.19 million students enrolled in grade nine during the 2003–2004 school year, while figures for the following school year, 2004–2005, show enrollment numbers for tenth grade at around 3.75 million—a loss of 10.5% (NCES, 2005). The dip in the number of students in tenth grade reflects both the large number of students not promoted to tenth grade as well as those students that drop out after ninth grade and before tenth grade.

• In the last 30 years, the bulge of students in grade nine has more than tripled, from approximately 4% to 13% (Haney et al., 2004).

• Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that up to 40% of ninth grade students in cities with the highest dropout rates repeat the ninth grade, but only 10–15% of those repeaters go on to graduate (Balfanz & Letgers, 2004).

• Ninth grade attrition is far more pronounced in urban, high-poverty schools: 40% of dropouts in low-income high schools left after ninth grade, compared to 27% in low-poverty districts (EPE Research Center, 2006).

Student Enrollment by Grade and Percentage of Total Enrollment, 2004–2005

8th 9th 10th 11th 12th Total
3,824,670 4,281,345 3,750.491 3,369,339 3,094,349 18,320,194
20.9% 23.4% 20.5% 18.4% 16.9% 100.0%

((Gray, Sable, & Sietsema, 2006)

• Racial disparities highlight the ninth grade bulge and tenth grade dip—these figures are the most pronounced for African American and Latino students. For example, grade-nine enrollment is 23– 27% higher than grade eight, and attrition between grades nine and ten hovers around 20% for African American students; for their white peers, grade nine enrollment is 6–8% higher than grade eight, while attrition between grades nine and ten is stable around 7% (Wheelock & Miao, 2005).

• Twenty-nine of 51 states see their greatest “leakage” in the “education pipeline” occur during the ninth grade (EPE Research Center, 2006). Some states have as high as a 20% decrease in enrollment between ninth and tenth grades (Wheelock and Miao, 2005).

• Most high school dropouts fail at least 25% of their ninth grade courses, while 8% of highschool completers experienced the same difficulty (Letgers & Kerr, 2001).

• More than one semester “F” in core subjects and fewer than five full course credits by the end of freshman year are key indicators that a student is not on track to graduate (Allensworth & Easton, 2005). Low attendance during the first 30 days of the ninth grade year is a stronger indicator that a student will drop out than any other eighth grade predictor, including test scores, other academic achievement, and age. (Jerald, 2006).

Strategies

Because the research is clear that the first year of high school is pivotal, but the transition into high school is often characterized as a time when students experience a decline in grades and attendance (Barone, Aguirre-Deandreis, & Trickett, 1991), school systems must support first-year high school students to improve their chances of success.

• One strategy to address the challenges facing freshmen is the creation of ninth grade academies that are apart from the rest of the high school or the creation of separate stand-alone schools. (Reents, 2002) One hundred fifty-four ninth-grade-only schools were operating during the 2004-2005 school year. (NCES, Common Core of Data).

• In schools in which transition programs are fully operational, researchers saw a dropout rate of 8%, while schools without transition programs averaged 24% (Reents, 2002).

• Student self-reports indicate that more transition support that would ease their transition to high school could help. Compared to their perceptions reported the previous year, ninth graders perceive less support and monitoring from teachers and principals and generally like school less than they did in middle school. On average, ninth graders report being less involved in school activities and perceive the need for more school organization. They also indicate lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression than middle school students (Barber & Olsen, 2004).

This statistic reflects the total number of public schools operating in the United States that offered only the ninth grade, but is not necessarily reflective of the total number of ‘ninth grade academies.

Many research-based practices and policies are available to states, districts, and schools committed to supporting and guiding smooth transitions into high school. Resources and strategies include aligned standards and curriculum, team teaching, catch-up coursework in the first semester using the double block schedule, student advisories, at-risk benchmarks, academic benchmarks, and adolescent literacy initiatives. Additional information – including research briefs, a case study, and examples of relevant state initiatives on easing the transition to high school – are forthcoming from the National High School Center at http://www.betterhighschools.org

Source: National High School Center, betterhighschools.org

References

Allensworth, E. M. & Easton, J. Q. (2005). The on-track indicator as a predictor of high school graduation, Chicago: Consortium on Chicago school research. Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://ccsr.uchicago.edu/publications/p78.pdf

Balfanz, R., & Letgers, N. (2004). Locating the dropout crisis: Which high schools produce the nation’s dropouts, where are they located, who attends them? Baltimore, MD: Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At-Risk, Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://web.jhu.edu/CSOS/graduation-gap/edweek/Crisis_Commentary.pdf

Barber, B. K., & Olsen, J. A. (2004). Assessing the transitions to middle and high school. Journal of Adolescent Research; 19:3. Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://jar.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/19/1/3

Barone, C., Aguirre-Deandreis, A. I., & Trickett, E. J. (1991). Means—ends problem-solving skills, life stress, and social support as mediators of adjustment in the normative transition to high school. American Journal of Community Psychology; 19:2, 207-225.

EPE Research Center. (2006, June 22). Diplomas count: An essential guide to graduation rates and policies. EdWeek. Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://www.edweek.org/ew/toc/2006/06/22/index.html

Gray, D., Sable, J., & Sietsema, J. (2006). Documentation for the common core of data state nonfiscal survey of public elementary/secondary education: School year 2004–05 (NCES 2006-441). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.

Haney, W., et al. (2004). The education pipeline in the United States 1970–2000. Chestnut Hill, MA: The National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy. Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://www.bc.edu/research/nbetpp/statements/nbr3.pdf

Jerald, C. D. (2006). Identifying potential dropouts: Key lessons for building an early warning data system—A dual agenda of high standards and high graduation rates. Washington, DC: Achieve, Inc. Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://www.achieve.org/files/FINAL-dropouts_0.pdf

Letgers, N., & Kerr, K. (2001). Easing the transition to high school: An investigation of reform practices to promote ninth grade success. Baltimore, MD: Center for Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu/research/dropouts/legters.pdf

National Center for Educational Statistics. (2005). Digest of education statistics tables and figures 2004.Washington, DC: Author. Available online at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d05/tables/dt05_097.asp

National Center for Education Statistics: Common Core of Data. (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2007 from

http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/bat/result.asp?saved=3357

Reents, J. N. (2002). Isolating 9th graders: Separate schools ease the academic and social transition for high-school bound students. The School Administrator. Retrieved March 9, 2007 from http://www.aasa.org/publications/saarticledetail.cfm?ItemNumber=2668

Wheelock, A., & Miao, J. (2005). The ninth grade bottleneck. The School Administrator. Retrieved March 9, 2007 from

http://www.aasa.org/publications/saarticledetail.cfm?mnitemnumber=&tnitemnumber=&itemnu mber=988&unitemnumber=&pf=1&snitemnumber=

MH
To a large extent, ailment professionals in special education and vocational rehabilitation (VR) have been on parallel courses for decades yet with curiously similar goals: successful post-school outcomes (particularly employment) for individuals with disabilities.  Born out of different forms of federal legislation, the two fields developed largely as separate systems.  Because their only connection was transition-age youth with disabilities preparing for employment, perhaps it was easier to remain focused on other concerns (e.g., early childhood and elementary education in inclusive settings for special educators; rehabilitation and employment of adults with psychiatric, drug dependence, and other disabilities for VR counselors).  And then, when the systems became overburdened with decreased funding and increased caseload and class sizes, they had every reason to focus on their own survival and not each other.  In fact, the overburdening of both systems made it easy to assume the other group would provide transition and employment services for adolescents. Perhaps this is where necessity is the “mother of invention”.  For the welfare of youth in transition, it is sheer necessity for special educators who work in transition to gain knowledge and strength by turning to their colleagues in VR.  They can perform better as teachers given support by rehabilitation counselors in learning how to prepare youth and their parents for transition.   Also, it is sheer necessity for VR counselors to gain knowledge and strength by turning to their colleagues in special education.   They can become active and essential participants in transition planning leading to successful employment closures for young adults with disabilities (Oertle & Trach, 2007).

The research literature presents a clear case: interagency collaboration between special educators and VR professionals results in successful outcomes.  Morningstar, Kleinhammer-Tramill, and Lattin (1999) reviewed 13 studies identifying best practices in transition planning and concluded that the key ingredient was interagency collaboration, especially between special education and rehabilitation.  Hayward and Schmidt-Davis (2000) found that 63% of youth with disabilities who applied (or whose parents applied) for VR services successfully achieved an employment outcome, compared to 49% who obtained employment without VR services.  In this study, employment was associated with less need to rely on financial assistance (Social Security Income), higher levels of self-esteem, and more internally-based locus of control (Hayward & Schmidt-Davis, 2000).  Wehman and Targett (2002) found that young adults with disabilities who had received rehabilitation counseling had increased career guidance and higher employment rates compared to young adults without such services.

A collaborative working relationship can ease the workload for both special educators and VR counselors.  Collaboration can also produce much-needed outcome data for both special education and VR.  The special education teacher produces a young adult with employment or post-secondary educational opportunities and the VR counselor facilitates a successful employment placement.  Along the way, special educators learn concepts and procedures from the VR counselor to simplify and facilitate their transition efforts.  For example, they learn about Work Opportunity Tax Credits and what it means to employers who hire young adults with disabilities.  They learn about benefits planning (e.g., Impairment Related Work Expenses, etc.) and other important information to communicate to parents about future work incentives.  They learn about how to approach an employer to promote employment of a young adult with a disability, not from the “right thing to do” perspective but by providing an employee who will fill a critical need of the employer.  VR counselors learn about task analysis, on-the-job training, data-based decision making, prompt fading, and numerous teaching strategies that special educators use to achieve independent performance.  They learn behavior intervention strategies, including ways to increase and decrease behavior applicable to counseling sessions.  But most important, young adults with disabilities are the benefactors; they are more likely to gain employment because of collaborative efforts of special educators and rehabilitation counselors

Barriers separating the fields have been intransigent, dating back to the 1980s if not earlier (Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985).  If the barriers were simple to remove, it would have happened. Therefore, before recommending a collaborative relationship, specific barriers deserve closer inspection.  Understanding of the nature of the barriers will lead to more targeted solutions.  Agran, Cain, and Cavin (2002) described results of separate but “mirror-image” surveys completed by 54 special educators and 62 rehabilitation counselors to identify transition barriers.  The sample was drawn largely from Utah teachers and rehabilitation counselors.  Almost half of rehabilitation counselors reported they had never been asked to attend a transition services IEP even though they had transition-age youth on their caseloads. For those who had attended IEP meetings, 62% indicated they had not played an integral role.  Many respondents indicated they had not received information on the youth in transition prior to the meeting and felt like they had nothing to offer.  Because transition legislation is regulated by the Office of Special Education Programs, rehabilitation counselors did not perceive the need for their direct involvement in transition services. About half of special education respondents indicated they rarely invited rehabilitation counselors to IEP meetings for transition-age youth.  Note, however, that this study pre-dated the 2004 re-authorization of IDEA.   The majority of special educator respondents indicated they did not know how to engage rehabilitation counselors in discussion leading to achieving employment for youth in transition.  Further, they acknowledged they did not provide information prior to the meeting to inform VR counselors of individual needs.  Information from an individual’s educational file cannot, of course, be distributed without prior signed release from the parent/guardian.  Finally, some special educators and rehabilitation counselor respondents felt intimidated because they did not understand terms and the freely used acronyms of the other system.

From these data, barriers begin to take on better definition and scope.  Perhaps, potential solutions begin to take form as well.  The following list delineates some of the barriers and potential solutions.  Obviously, solutions are untested at this time.

Barrier 1: Rehabilitation counselors are not being invited to transition services IEP meetings nor are they provided information on an individual’s needs allowing them to prepare as active participants.  Potential solution:  Not only should rehabilitation counselors be invited, they need information.  If acceptable given school district policies, teachers may want to seek parent signature releasing limited information to rehabilitation counselors prior to the meeting, such as current IEP goals, relevant assessment results, interests and preferences, etc.  Teachers may want to send a note to the counselor about how the meeting will be conducted (i.e., will the youth direct the meeting or will the teacher and youth work together?), who will serve as team members, and what transition process/outcome may be sought.  Please remember that with such large caseloads, it may require setting the appointment a few weeks ahead of time in order to find an open spot in the VR counselor’s schedule. To help with scheduling, it is also helpful to have the IEP meetings at a consistent day and time to the extent possible.

Barrier 2: Once at the meeting, rehabilitation counselors are not being actively engaged as participating team members.  Potential solution: the teacher may want to provide the rehabilitation counselor with a list of transition questions prior to the meeting.  Although these questions may evolve into different ones at the meeting, they will provide the rehabilitation counselor with a starting point for active engagement.   Teachers or the youth need to introduce all team members and make them feel comfortable and confident that they are necessary contributors to the process.

Barrier 3: Research makes frequent reference to team members dispersing after IEP meetings thus placing primary responsibilities on the special education teacher.  Potential solution: before the meeting concludes, the team leader should make assignments with “check in dates” and ask all members to be responsible for certain tasks.

Barrier 4:  Special educators and rehabilitation counselors speak different languages. Potential solution:  create a vocabulary list.  In IEP meetings and in conversations, avoid acronyms; spell out the term and explain what it means.  Respect the listener’s need and desire to understand.  A partial list appears below:

Term                                                                        Definition

IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) A document outlining the specific special education and related services to be provided a student with disabilities, including present level of performance, goals, objectives, and services.
IPE (Individual Plan for Employment) A rehabilitation document that describes one’s employment goal, date for meeting goal, services needed, who will pay for services, and who provides the services.  For students with disabilities who are receiving special education services from a public school and also are determined eligible for VR services, the IPE should be completed and signed before the student leaves the school setting (Szymanski & Parker, 2003).
Transition planning inventories Instruments to identify strengths and needs of various aspects of adult living, including employment, postsecondary education, independent living, interpersonal relationships, and community living (National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center, 2010).
Reasonable accommodation A logical adjustment to a job and/or work environment that enables a qualified person with a disability to perform the duties of that position (West, 1991). Accommodations include modifying the physical layout of a job facility to make it accessible, restructuring a job to enable the person with a disability to perform the essential functions, or establishing a modified work schedule (Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990).
Job analysis Gathering objective, and complete data on what the worker does on a particular job, how the work is done, results of the work (e.g., goods produced, services rendered), characteristics of the worker, and context of the work (Materials Development Center, 1982).
Task analysis Breaking down particular job tasks into component parts or sequences (Westling & Fox, 2009).
Transferable skills analysis An assessment of knowledge and skills used on one job that can be used on another job.
Ticket to Work/Work Incentives Improvement Act Legislation designed to remove many of the barriers that previously influenced people’s decisions about going to work because of the concerns over losing health care coverage. The goal of the Ticket Program is to increase opportunities and choices for Social Security disability beneficiaries to obtain employment and VR (http://www.yourtickettowork.com/program_info).
Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE) For eligible individuals, IRWE means that certain impairment-related items and services do not count against one’s gross earnings.
Work Opportunity Tax Credit A Federal tax credit incentive provided to private-sector businesses for hiring individuals from twelve target groups, including individuals with disabilities. The objective is to enable the employees with disabilities to gradually move from economic dependency into self-sufficiency, while the participating employers are compensated by reducing their federal income tax liability. (http://www.doleta.gov/business/incentives/opptax/).
DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles) A source of occupational information using a 9-digit classification system to classify occupations (Szymanski & Parker, 2003).
O*NET (Occupational Information Network) An online database for career exploration and job analysis

http://online.onetcenter.org/).

Barrier 5:  Special educators and rehabilitation counselors do not have a single meeting opportunity where they can engage each other in meaningful dialogue.  Potential solution:  Contact the Utah State Office of Education or Utah State Office of Rehabilitation for a sample of opportunities.  One such opportunity is the Utah Effective Practices Conference held annually (June 20-23, 2011) on the campus of Utah State University.  Many special educators and rehabilitation counselors have collaborated and developed relationships.

In Utah the designated agency for vocational rehabilitation services is the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation (http://www.usor.utah.gov).  Most communities have a local office with a VR counselor. If you do not know your VR counselor, give your local USOR office a call and set up a time to meet.

With burgeoning caseloads and diminishing adult services, young adults with disabilities and their families need all the support they can get to achieve successful post-school outcomes.  More than ever, achieving employment means that professionals must work together. It is imperative that special educators and rehabilitation counselors create meaningful working relationships (i.e., specifying roles and responsibilities, setting timelines for completion of tasks, reporting on task completion) for the welfare of young adults in transition to employment.

Authors: Bob Morgan, Jared Schultz, and Tracy Woolstenhulme, Utah State University

Many challenges face teachers and families who serve young adults with disabilities. The transition from school to adulthood is a challenge that is formidable and complex. Given diminished availability of adult services, cheapest young adults must be even better prepared than in past years to demonstrate independence and self-direction. The challenge is compounded exponentially when teachers and families are serving a young adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Individuals with ASD are often characterized by limited social skills and adaptability, decease deficits in attending to relevant stimuli, and non-responsiveness to instructions delivered by adults in authority roles. If accurate, these characteristics significantly limit young adults with ASD in obtaining and maintaining employment, where social skills, adaptability, alertness, and compliance are competencies expected to occur at high standards.

Even the process of identifying a preferred job can be daunting for a young adult with ASD. Some individuals with ASD have not achieved reading levels necessary to access and process information found in career education and job preference programs, such as www.UtahFutures.org. Reading-free assessments, such as line-drawing instruments (e.g., Reading-Free Vocational Interest Inventory-Revised) and video-based job preference instruments (www.yesjobsearch.com) may help the young adult with ASD to determine preferred employment.

At Utah State University, a new “booster-shot” effort has been developed to successfully place young adults with ASD into employment using research-based procedures (Hendricks & Wehman, 2009; Wehman, Smith, & Schall, 2009). To establish the infrastructure for the effort, a commitment must be established among all relevant stakeholders, including the transition teacher, parents and family, vocational rehabilitation counselor, district related-services specialists, volunteers, and others. The bottom line is that to achieve the most optimal outcome at graduation it may take more than the traditional process; considerably greater effort and coordination will be required of stakeholders and the young adult with ASD. Annual IEP meetings may serve as the minimum requirement, but the team may need to meet more frequently. If the burden seems extreme, the increased probability of success makes it well worth the effort.

The model is similar to the person-centered planning paradigm described by O’Brien (1997).  Much like O’Brien’s original conceptualization of person-centered planning as a community of practice, all stakeholders play active roles and check in periodically to show that they have carried out assignments leading to the goal.  However, it is distinct from person-centered planning in four ways. First, the focus is on achieving supported, and eventually, competitive employment as the best hedge against an adulthood hoping to rely on social services. When employment planning is well under way, other important adult life pathways, such as postsecondary education, recreation and leisure, and social opportunities, are explored. Second, from the outset, individual preference for employment guides job development, training, and placement activities. Assessment first identifies the individual’s preferences for employment, and second, the preferred job that is best matched to current skills. This may be a challenge as it makes the development of situational assessments and work experiences in the community an individualized process as well. Group or rotating work experiences, while helpful, may not be addressing the preferred job. Employment success increases in proportion to the match between the actual job and preferred job. Third, all activities related to achieving employment must show empirical evidence for efficacy (Wehman et al., 2009). Fourth, all activities are adapted given data collection on their effectiveness. Ineffective practices are scrapped, while  effective ones are maintained. As independence on a job grows, supports by an employment specialist (i.e. job coach) are systematically faded as natural supports are developed in the work environment. Implementation and monitoring steps are described below.

1. At least 4 years prior to exit from school (i.e., either high school graduation or at age 22 following in post-high school special education services), prosocial behavior and social skills are targeted. Behavior and social skill targets are identified from assessments, then goals are set, interventions are implemented, and progress is monitored. Given evidence of improved behavior, responsibility is gradually transferred to the young adult.

2. At least 2 years prior to exit from school, job preference and matching assessments are initiated. Preference assessments and information on specific careers are available at www.utahfutures.org and  www.yesjobsearch.com.

3. Given identification of strengths and weaknesses from a job matching assessment, two activities commence. First, weaknesses on preferred jobs are targeted for training or accommodation. Second, consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the vocational rehabilitation counselor attends transition team meetings. The rehabilitation counselor can forecast job prospects, identify needed services, and provide advice to the youth and the transition team.

4. At about 1 year prior to exit from school, the transition teacher, parent, or vocational rehabilitation counselor contact individuals identified from the young adult’s social network (i.e., who you know and who they know) to get ideas about employment sites where the individual’s preferred/best matched job exists along with co-workers who will be available to provide ongoing supports. Given that eligibility is established and a rehabilitation case file is opened, the vocational rehabilitation counselor identifies long-term support services, such as those from a supported employment agency, and/or short-term services, such as vocational rehabilitation.

5. One job that is considered most preferred, best matched, and most supported is then designated for job development. Team members coordinate job development procedures (e.g., contacting employers, scheduling interviews, etc.).

6. Once job placement is secured, the transition team continues to communicate with each other. It is helpful if the employer and interested co-workers become active members of the transition team. The vocational rehabilitation counselor may contact the transition teacher if new skills need to be taught or if problem behaviors arise.

7. If special education services for the young adult are soon to expire, the team explores educational opportunities to support the employment for the individual with ASD (e.g., universal design courses at an applied technology college or community college). Additionally, training should be explored for employers and co-workers of the new employee.  Local university faculty or representatives from ASD support groups may be available to support employers and co-workers.

8. If long-term supported employment services are necessary, the transition teacher or vocational rehabilitation counselor make efforts to obtain a well-trained job coach. As the new employee becomes more proficient in carrying out job tasks, coaching supports are systematically faded until the employee performs them independently (Wehman & Moon, 1988).

9. Data are generated on job performance and are reviewed by the team at least once a month to identify adjustments in skill training or services required.

10. Concurrent with job placement, the team develops back-up plans in case the employee or employer becomes dissatisfied or a new direction is required.  Back-up plans keep stakeholders postured in a proactive way ready to implement alternatives.

One case is described here to illustrate how components of the model have been implemented. Grant is a 19-year-old youth with ASD who attends a local post-high school special education program. His teacher, Ms. Markovic, coordinates Grant’s Individualized Education Program with transition services. Grant’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Oldham, are concerned about the future of their son and their family. Like many parents, they have multiple responsibilities and a limited budget. Grant, who was diagnosed with ASD at the age of two years, functions in the moderate range of intellectual disabilities. Strengths include visual and gross and fine-motor skills. Weaknesses include expressive language and social skills. Grant responds to others by verbalizing in one-to-four word phrases but does not initiate with others. Occasionally, he engages in loud outbursts when presented with high-demand tasks (yelling “I hate you!”). When he engages in outbursts, adults redirect him to the task.

The IEP team discussed Grant’s future, particularly his career prospects. The parents expressed concern about whether Grant would ever be responsible for himself. The team decided to focus on social and behavioral intervention, especially outbursts and asking for help when confronted with challenging tasks.

The Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Mr. Ramirez, opened a case file with the Oldhams. Mr. Ramirez worked with Grant on the job preference assessment. Grant’s mother filled out the job matching assessment. Grant’s highest preference and best-matched job was screen process printer. Although this job was the best-matched one, the job matching assessment revealed weaknesses in production rate and social skills. Ms. Markovic shared these results with the team.

A neighbor of the Oldham’s reported knowing the manager of a local graphics firm with screen process printing. Mr. Ramirez contacted the manager who indicated he needed someone to  “reclaim screens,” i.e., apply solutions and spray screens until they were clean using a power-washer. Ms. Markovic changed Grant’s post-high school schedule to accommodate 8 hours per week at the graphics firm for job training.

The local vocational rehabilitation agency hired a university student as a job coach. The job coach conducted situational assessments at the job site to determine how Grant performed tasks. After two sessions, verbal outbursts began occurring at the site. Ms. Markovic developed a behavior intervention to decrease outbursts and “replace” them with requests for a brief break (e.g., “break please”). Prior to intervention, outbursts occurred at the mean rate of 3.4 occurrences across eight, 2-hour sessions. The intervention called for replacing the outbursts by teaching socially and environmentally appropriate behaviors (e.g., asking for help or for a brief break). Procedures called for one bonus dollar to be awarded at home by the parents for zero outbursts at the end of each 2-hour session. Outbursts decreased to one occurrence in 12 sessions (0.08 occurrences per session).

The manager agreed to hire Grant at minimum wage for 8 hours per week, assuming short-term support from the job coach and continuation of the behavior intervention to decrease outbursts. The job coach collected data on three targets: (a) time (duration) required to wash screens, (b) steps of the cleaning task that were performed independently, and (c) number of verbal outbursts per session. Across 21 work sessions, Grant made progress, decreasing the time to clean a screen from 3 minutes to below the company standard (45 seconds per screen). Independence on cleaning steps was scored only if Grant performed a step without any assistance and within a time limit.  Any verbal, gestural, or other prompt from the job coach was scored as not independent. The job coach calculated independent steps divided by total steps times 100. Grant initially performed most steps with prompts (only 12% to 33% independent), but later performed steps independently (100% for five consecutive sessions). Job coach support is now being faded, and soon, the employer will assume full responsibility. Parents indicate they are very pleased. The employer is satisfied because a significant company need has been met and considers Grant “one of our people.”

Grant’s example illustrates how stakeholders can successfully achieve employment for a young adult with significant disabilities. The vocational rehabilitation counselor and post-high school teacher enlisted the active involvement of Grant and others in a goal-directed effort aimed at employment. Although cost and time intensive, the case exemplifies how successful employment can be attained for young adults with ASD through a well-organized and individualized process.

Authors: Robert L. Morgan, Jared C. Schultz, and Joel Johnson, Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation, Utah State University