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What To Do When Your Special Needs Child Completes High School

ClassroomPictPart I: The Path To Employment

As our children begin to enter into early adolescence, many of us begin to realize that many – if not all – of the services and programs that our child relies on for care will soon disappear and be replaced by radically different benefits.

Most of these new benefits abruptly come into play once our children leave the public education system. This may happen at any time between the ages of 18 and 23, depending on the state you live in and your child’s particular needs.

One of the most important aspects of this transition is securing employment services for our children. According to the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability, one-quarter of all adults with disabilities work at either a full- or part-time job.

Some of the remaining three-quarters are unable to work at all due to their disability; but a large number of disabled adults who aren’t employed don’t have a job because they lack the skills necessary for gainful employment. Several federal laws address this situation with the goal of providing vocational education to a wider segment of the population with disabilities.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that special education plans begin transition planning when a child turns 14. At this point, a written transition plan must be incorporated into a child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), outlining the steps a school will take to help a child with special needs acquire skills necessary for an eventual move into the workforce.

By the time the child turns 16, the special education team must steer the child towards development programs keyed towards the child’s individual vocational preferences. The law also mandates periodic measurement of the child’s progress to ensure that he receives attention from the proper vocational advocates.

Once your child reaches 18 and receives either Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments, the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers several programs to encourage your child to work. The best-known program, Ticket to Work, is a somewhat complicated program designed to offer beneficiaries a way to begin a career without having to worry about losing their SSI or SSDI benefits.

SSI beneficiaries, on the other hand, must conform to very strict income and asset limits. Often, beneficiaries who could hold a job do not pursue one because they are worried that they will lose their SSI benefits once they earn too much. While this is certainly a concern, the benefits of employment may outweigh the loss of SSI. Furthermore, the government provides specific incentives for SSI beneficiaries to work. For instance, if a person with disabilities is under 22 and at school or in a vocational training program, $1,780 of his monthly income does not count against his SSI benefit, up to a yearly limit of $7,180.

The Social Security Administration also offers the PASS (Plan for Achieving Self Support) program for SSI beneficiaries who would like to work. Under this program, a beneficiary presents the SSA with a detailed plan for obtaining a specific type of employment. Once the SSA approves the plan, a beneficiary sets aside income and assets towards achieving her goal without having those funds count against her benefit. Funds can be used for things like childcare, transportation, books and supplies, and additional education and training.

Many programs are available for people with special needs to seek employment if they would like to do so. Unfortunately, the rules for most of these programs are complicated and the SSA is often not very good at explaining them.

Beginning to plan well before your child completes high school – with the assistance of local vocational agencies and qualified special needs planners – is your best chance for successfully navigating the maze of educational opportunities for your child.



Bullying in School – Legal Protection for Students

bullyingLate last week, a teenager was beaten at Parkview High in Gwinnett County. His injuries were so severe that he has to have reconstructive surgery. The incident was videoed by other students on their cell phones. Instead of helping, the kids stood by filmed. Equally astonishing was that there was no teacher or coach present. No adult supervision. What resulted is akin to the very worst parts of Lord of the Flies. The video is alarming and sad.

In another recent story, an eighth girl quit attending school and decided to home school because the bullying was too much to bear each day. It would begin on the bus, continue during class and then, throughout the evening via texting and Facebook. The student reported the bullying repeatedly to the school but nothing was done. Eventually, she was physically assaulted at school. After that, she and her mother made the decision to home school. Unfortunately, these stories are not rare.

What can parents do if their child is being bullied? First, know the law. Georgia has an anti-bullying law: O.C.G.A. 20-2-751.4. It defines bullying as an act that occurs on school property, on school vehicles, at bus stops or at school-related functions or activities. It also includes acts by use of data or software that are accessed through any electronic technology belonging to the school. The act of bullying is any intentional attempt or threat to physically injure someone else when this intention is accompanied by the ability to do so; or an intentional display of force that makes the victim afraid of or expect immediate physical harm; or any intentional written, verbal or physical act which a reasonable person would perceive as threatening, harassing or intimidating. This includes actions that have the effect of interfering with a student’s education or actions that are so persistent that they create an intimidating educational environment.

Second, know school policies. As of August 1, 2011, each local board of education was required to adopt a policy that prohibits bullying of a student by another student. This policy must be included in the student code of conduct for schools in that school system. If you have not received a copy, go to your school’s website and look for it. If you cannot find it, ask the school for a copy.

Third, TELL. If a child alerts you that he or she is being teased, email the teacher immediately. Keep a copy of this email and all other communications with the school. Email the school counselor and ask for a meeting as soon as practical. Copy the teacher and the principle on this email. Ask that your child be included in this meeting. At the meeting, request that a plan be put in place to ensure your child’s safety- emotionally and physically, at school. Ask that the counselor meet with the students doing the bullying and then, if appropriate, meet with your child and the bully in an attempt to mediate.

Fourth, Insist. Remember that children need advocates and a voice. Insist that all steps are being made to protect a child’s safety and well-being while at school as well as in cyber space. If the above steps do not correct the problem, go higher up the chain of command. Take your concerns to the County School Board and the School District Superintendent. These contacts can be found online. You can also go to the Georgia Department of Education at