In Mississippi, students can receive special-education services through the end of the school year in which they turn 21, but the process of planning for transition starts long before that. Here are five things to do to help you prepare for your child's transition to adulthood in Mississippi and make sure there's something waiting after school is done.
1. Expect transition planning to be a part of your child's IEP by his or her fourteenth birthday if not before. To start thinking about what your child will need to get ready for life after school, read "Person-Centered Planning: A Tool for Transition" from the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, recommended on the Mississippi Department of Education site, and "Transition Information: Mississippi," a document from Autism Speaks. Your child should be involved in IEP meetings at this point if at all possible, even if it's a brief appearance to talk about work or post-high-school educational goals.
2. Prepare for the transfer of rights to your child at age 21, the age of majority in Mississippi. You and your child should receive notification of this transfer from the school. For more on transfer of rights at age of majority, read the appropriate section of state policy (page 212) downloadable from the Department of Education site and "Age of Majority" from the National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities. If your child will need you to continue to be in charge of his or her educational program, you will need to consult with a lawyer to look into guardianship or power of attorney. Your school district may continue to include you and consult with you, but legally they only have to get your child's approval from this point on unless you have created a legal standing for yourself.
3. Work with your child's IEP team and the school's transition coordinator to determine whether your student should graduate with his or her age peers or stay in school additional years or all the way until eligibility ends at age 21. Be sure to ask what sorts of work programs are available, what your child would be doing in the classroom with those extra years, and what your child's options will be after leaving school. You can download information about the Mississippi Occupational Diploma and Transition Portfolio from the Department of Education site.
4. Investigate state organizations that can help your child transition to work and independent living when school is over. These may include Disability Rights Mississippi, LIFE of Mississippi, Mississippi Society for Disabilities, Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, Mississippi Department of Human Services, and other organizations mentioned on the Mississippi Parent Training and Information Center (MSPTI) page of resources for parents.
5. Contact MSPTI, a parent advocacy organization that offers support and services for families of children with special needs, for advice on helping your child through this transition. The Department of Education site has a downloadable list of parent groups for specific disabilities that may also be helpful.