Throughout the lifespan, there are many changes and transitions that can impact AAC users. Some of these are major life events like high school graduation. But others may occur more frequently, like changes in a routine or moving from grade to grade. Regardless of the transition, it is important to make a plan for it. Planning will help to ensure success for the person.
Early Intervention Services → Entering the School System
During this transition, the family and team will need to ensure AAC supports are in place. The child may be moving from an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) to an Individualized Education Program (IEP). It is important that any communication and assistive technology supports that were written in the IFSP are included in the IEP (if still appropriate). This will ensure that the child will have access to their communication system and strategies from the time they enter the school system. Any relevant information regarding communication and/or evaluation results (such as from an AAC or AT evaluation) should be included. Include information about the tools that are used and how well the child uses them. This will save both the student and the IEP team time. The student should have access to necessary supports from the beginning, rather than having to wait for the new team to restart the evaluation process.
Elementary → Middle/High School
The academic demands placed on an elementary student are very different from those placed on a middle or high school student. The supports that were helpful in elementary school may no longer be useful to the older student. With middle/high school often comes new requirements and responsibilities. Families and teams should consider making modifications to the IEP that reflect these new demands. The student should be a part of the decision-making. During this time, it is also important for the team to start transition planning. They should work with the student to ensure that their own wants, needs and goals are being met.
Preteens and teenagers will also require updated vocabulary to express themselves. Think slang, profanity, and language for relationships. AAC is self expression and no one should “gatekeep” an AAC user from access to the language they need!
High School → Postsecondary Life/Adulthood
Graduating from high school is a major life event. It starts the journey into adulthood. During those last IEP meetings, the AAC user, family, and team should ensure that information regarding communication devices, supports ,and accommodations are included in the Summary of Performance section of the IEP. The AAC user should also consider getting updated educational evaluations prior to graduation. This documentation will be helpful in getting supports/accommodations in postsecondary education and employment. This transition plan should start as early as possible, but it is required in the IEP at age 14 in Pennsylvania. The plan should include the person’s goals for work, further education or vocational training, and supported or independent living. The Department of Education has published a Transition Guide. Is the student using a district-owned AAC device? The beginning of senior year is the time to consider whether the device will transition with the student, or the student’s insurance will be used to obtain a new device that belongs to them. This process takes time, so don’t wait till the last minute!
Remember that this process is person-centered, and the AAC user has the final say on what they want for their life!