It would be an exhausting challenge to find a student who wanted their education to last forever. For most high school students, the light at the end of the tunnel is nearly blinding, as plans are underway for college, employment, or alternative options. For students with developmental disabilities enrolled in special education, the light at the end of the tunnel can flicker as parents/guardians and the students, themselves, struggle with the journey through the Transition tunnel—the long and arduous process of methodically and legally transitioning to adult services through the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS). Also known as Turning 22, this major milestone looms large on the horizon for any parent or guardian navigating the timeline of “To-Dos” that need to be done by the time a child turns 18—the “age of majority”—and the steps that follow to become eligible for the future opportunities DDS has developed to help them lead fulfilling and rewarding lives.
Fortunately for families in central Massachusetts, the Transition Planning Process is a team effort. Seven Hills Family Services (SHFS) has two DDS-funded Family Support Specialists with a concentrated expertise in Transition Services. Ida Avoryie and Eliana Agudelo are experienced in the nuances of transition protocol, from DDS eligibility to legalities and person-centered planning. Ida and Eliana are available to work one-on-one with parents/guardians during the steps in their child’s personal planning process. On a broader scope, they partner with area school districts to provide and guide supports for the process along the timeline. Individuals and families also have access to frequent live trainings, a library of archived material, networking opportunities, and connections to the latest resources at any of Seven Hills’ Family Support Centers.
Recently, the Transition Team approach was put to the ultimate test by coordinators, experts, and families alike: the first annual Transition Training Conference. First, the coordinators and experts collaborated as a team to develop the training for a virtual platform. SHFS staff at the North Central Family Support Center and DDS Transition Department worked to identify the keynote speaker, presenters, agenda, and sponsors. Tireless effort was put into promoting the event through flyers, e-communication, and personal outreach. The result? 224 RSVPs—a resounding response to successful planning and promotion that underscored the profound desire families have to nail this transition timeline for the future success of their loved ones with disabilities.
“The incredible collaboration between SHFS and DDS yielded the best possible outcome in attendance—validating the need families have for information and community to help them successfully transition their loved one with disabilities into adulthood,” said Leslie Courtney, Vice President of SHFS.
During the conference, Keynote Speaker Cheryl Ryan Chan emphasized the empowerment of Human Community and the importance of self-care for individual family members who are navigating the transition journey with their child. Chan noted that the words “self-care” can be cringeworthy as they’re often suggested with good intention, but few who are at the receiving end of those intentions don’t have the time for self-care as they are trying to focus on the transition journey. In its place, Chan offers this advice: “In my opinion, the greatest act of self-care is summarized by three words: Find Your Peeps—Find Your People.” From Chan’s experience, reaching out to the close-knit disabilities community for support can offer an invaluable return in the form of wisdom from shared and learned experiences among many.
The circle of community available to families, guardians, and caregivers of children with disabilities is wide and welcoming, comprised of dedicated staff in health and human services as well as public schools. Resources are plentiful and evolving as new techniques and best practices emerge. The safety net is securely in place to fill in gaps and steady any unsure footing on the journey along the way.
Find your peeps; build your team; champion your child with disabilities into adulthood!
To learn more, contact one of SHFS’ Family Support Transition Specialists: Ida Avoryie, 508.579.8786, firstname.lastname@example.org Eliana Agudelo, 774.241.2520, email@example.com