Not long ago, 18 to 21 year old students with cognitive disabilities had only one option; to stay in high school in order to receive services under IDEA. However, now there are many colleges and universities that provide post-secondary programs for students with cognitive disabilities. In some cases, students are enrolled in both the high school and the college even though they receive their IDEA services on the college campus.

The introduction to the IDEA regulations states that IDEA funds can be used for transitional programs on college campuses if a student’s IEP team determines that his or her needs can best be met through participation in such a program and includes such services on the IEP.

Students with cognitive disabilities have made significant progress under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

A growing number of two and four-year colleges and universities are now including students with cognitive disabilities in educational, independent living and vocational programs. Students in comprehensive transition and post-secondary programs receive a variety of supports and are often provided opportunities to participate in regular college classes with support from peer mentors or instructional staff. They also may audit or otherwise participate in regular courses, participate in internships and other vocational opportunities, or enroll in courses specially designed for students with cognitive disabilities.

Over 120 such programs are listed on the US Department of Education-funded website: www.thinkcollege.net.

The increasing numbers of such programs reflects the strong need for a variety of post-secondary education opportunities for this population of students. These students should have access to post-secondary education, as well as the resulting employment and independent living opportunities, just as their typical peers do.

Some students may prefer focusing on a vocational program. During the high school years, students can become involved in regional occupational and other vocational programs that allow them to intern at local businesses. Some businesses have developed programs that allow the student to train during high school and then become an official member of their staff once they are in an adult or transition program.

It is important for your student’s IEP team to begin thinking about one of the most important transitions of all – the move from high school to life after high school. You and your child should start making plans as early as possible. The period of time following high school graduation can present many challenge, but it can also be a time of excitement, productivity and great satisfaction! Planning for this transition from an early age can help the your child further mature into an adult who is as independent as possible. A well-developed transition plan ensures that the your child has steps in place to reach his or her goals after high school!