School Transitions

What you will find in the pages of this section

Transitions in educational settings occur with predictable frequency and, particularly for children with special health care needs (CSHCN) or disabilities, present additional challenges as a student must adapt to different sets of services and expectations. The School Transitions section is organized around helping students and families anticipate the challenges and get the most out of each phase of education. Among the predictable school transitions are:
From Early Intervention to Preschool
Several options are available to optimize your child's social and educational development at this stage. For many CSHCN or disabilities, preschool plays an especially important role, as it can provide a child with necessary physical or occupational therapy.
From Preschool to Kindergarten/Elementary School
Numerous services and aids are available to help children with health problems and/or disabilities throughout these important years. Formalized plans are important to make sure these services are in place and are helpful.
To Middle School
In middle school, students may interact with an expanding community of peers, adults, counselors, and teachers, and may be expected to become increasingly independent. Student supports are generally harder to come by in middle school, and obtaining individualized attention often requires planning and advocacy. Adapting to the new social environment, expectations, and perhaps physical maturation, can be particularly challenging for students with disabilities or special health care needs.
From Middle School through High School
Some high school students with special needs will be expected to take more responsibility, consistent with their potential, for themselves and their futures. High school students will benefit from guidance in setting achievable goals and assuring preparation for life after high school. Families can help the educational transition team by sharing information about the adolescent’s capabilities, and by working with the adolescent and school to encourage optimal independence and to determine eligibility for needed adult services.
To College
Some young adults will face the opportunities and challenges of college, where they will gain more independence, but college also demands that students rebuild their support networks and take initiative to access the services they need in order to be successful. College disability centers can help students living on or off campus, get services in class and to help make the campus more accessible. The centers are a good place for a student with disabilities or special needs to go if he or she is feeling stressed and doesn't know where to get help.
The Medical Home can provide support and assistance for students and families throughout school age by
  • sharing knowledge and recommendations with school personnel regarding the health and educational needs of students
  • helping families and school personnel understand student's capabilities and set goals that push students and are achievable
  • collaborating with schools to obtain needed services or equipment
  • advocating on the student’s behalf when necessary
  • helping to evaluate the pros and cons of alternative approaches to services and accommodations.
Medical Home clinicians may not be aware of some school services or policies and may not routinely plan for these transitions for their patients. Families can help partner with clinicians by providing information, sharing concerns, and requesting advice and assistance.
Privacy and protection of sensitive information must be considered when communicating between schools and healthcare settings. Two sets of regulations apply, commonly referred to by the name of the legislation containing them: FERPA (Family Educations Rights and Privacy Act) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Privacy Act). Most schools and healthcare providers will need parental consent before they share information with each other. See the Sharing Information About Your Child page for details.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: January 2009; last update/revision: February 2012
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Gina Pola-Money
Reviewer: Alfred N. Romeo, RN, PhD