Transition to Adulthood for Students With Specific Learning Disabilities

By Community Manager posted 01-13-2022 08:39 AM


“Oh, the places you’ll go!” – Dr. Seuss

Throughout their lives, individuals experience many transitions: going to college, starting a new job, changing careers, relocating to a different city or state. The list goes on and on. Transition to a new chapter of a young person’s life can be a very exciting and fun adventure, but it can be scary at the same time. What would you do if you knew you were going to Italy, not just for a vacation, but to start a new chapter of your life? What would you do if you had only 1 year to get ready? And you knew no Italian!

The most significant change in my life was moving to the United State as a young adult. In preparation, I learned English (only British English was available at that time), evaluated my college diplomas and teaching credentials, had all legal documents translated and notarized, and studied American customs and traditions. I wanted to immerse myself into the society without spending too much time on adjustments. Now, more than two decades later, I look back and wish I had more people in my network to help me. I wish I had more time to prepare.

For young people, one of the most important changes is transitioning to independent living after high school. It is a challenging time for all students—especially for students with disabilities. Effective transition from high school to post-secondary education and training, employment, and independent living takes time and preparation. One fundamental and legally mandated requirement to facilitate successful movement from high school to adulthood for students with disabilities is the provision of effective transition services. Transition services encompass coordinated activities focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of a student to facilitate successful movement from school to post-school education, employment, and independent living (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA], 2004).

Despite federal regulations, students with specific learning disabilities (SLD) leave high school unprepared to face challenging post-school environments. Their adult outcomes remain uncertain and pose concerns for families, educators, researchers, and policymakers. Considering that post-school outcomes for students with SLD remain a critical area in need of improvement, it is essential for teachers to have the necessary knowledge and skills to support their students’ transition to adult life. However, teachers indicate that they feel underprepared and less than confident when it comes to teaching transition-related skills and implementing transition practices (Benitez et al., 2009; Cho et al., 2011; Morningstar & Benitez, 2013).

In writing “Transition to Adulthood: Preparing Students With Specific Learning Disabilities” for the Kappa Delta Pi Record, I was fortunate to collaborate with my colleague and friend Theresa Garfield, a strong advocate for individuals with disabilities, not only in the local community, but in the nation. In the article, we review federal regulations related to transition planning, examine the significant disparity in post-school outcomes that exist between students with SLD and their peers without disabilities, and discuss key elements of effective transition planning. Specifically, we address elements such as student-centered transition, early transition, and interagency collaboration. We also offer a case study to illustrate how these elements could be implemented when preparing students with SLD for life after school.

One should not assume that students with SLD have a mild disability primarily affecting their academic achievement; that assumption results in the insufficient attention given to their transition planning. Transition for students with SLD must be strengthened to assist them with finding and maintaining employment, obtaining post-secondary education, and navigating the challenging world of adulthood. I hope that teachers and other education professionals will find this article helpful to better facilitate successful movement from school to college and careers for students with SLD. With early student-centered transition planning and interagency collaboration efforts, schools can be better equipped to prepare students with SLD for effective transition to post-school environments and help them achieve their goals and aspirations for adult life.

By Mariya T. Davis

Mariya Davis (Texas A&M University–San Antonio) is the lead author on the article “Transition to Adulthood: Preparing Students With Specific Learning Disabilities” (coauthored by Theresa A. Garfield), which appears in the April 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.Getfree access to the article through the month of May.


Benitez, D. T., Morningstar, M. E., & Frey, B. B. (2009). A multistate survey of special education teachers’ perceptions of their transition competencies. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 32(1), 6–16.

Cho, H.-J., Wehmeyer, M., & Kingston, N. (2011). Elementary teachers’ knowledge and use of interventions and barriers to promoting student self-determination. Journal of Special Education, 45(3), 149–156.

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (2004). Morningstar, M. E., & Benitez, D. T. (2013). Teacher training matters: The results of a multistate survey of secondary special educators regarding transition from school to adulthood. Teacher Education and Special Education, 36(1), 51–64.