Transitioning from School to Life: What Can I Do Now?

The issue

_dsc2570Transitioning from high school to life after graduation is a rite of passage for all students. High school students face decisions about postsecondary education, employment, where to live, and a myriad of other choices.  Thankfully, federal law mandates transition education and services to prepare students for the world after high school. But deaf and hard-of-hearing students encounter a unique and additional set of challenges.  When they leave high school and become a part of their community, the structures, educational supports, and services that fostered success in high school often change or might not be available. We must reach deaf and hard-of-hearing students with effective transition programming and intentional provision of services while still are in high school if they are to achieve positive postsecondary outcomes such as enrollment in higher education and/or becoming competitively employed. But, what is “effective transition programming?”

What we know and what we don’t know

Deaf and hard-of-hearing students in our school systems face unique challenges, partially due to being a low incidence disability group. Students with learning disabilities account for approximately half of the special education population, whereas deaf and hard-of-hearing students represent less than 2%. Knowledge of evidence-based practices for implementing transition education and services for this population is limited, primarily because of the size of the population.  We know that they often experience more successful postsecondary outcomes than other disability groups—but less than those without a disability—however, we know little of the specific educational experiences associated with such success.

Students transitioning to life after high school should know what to expect and what they will be doing, whether it is going to college, a job, or a combined variation of those outcomes.  There should not be any surprises about what a student is going to do after they leave high school.  However, there is a gap in our knowledge about what works for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in this transition.  An emphasis has been placed recently on increasing the research to identify what is effective; however, conducting this research is difficult due to the small percentage of this disability population. Transition research has generated recommended components of transition-focused education for all students with disabilities.   Originating from years of disability-based research, these areas are:  student-focused planning, student development (e.g., development of academic, functional, social, and other skills), family involvement, interagency collaboration, and effective programmatic structures.

Student-focused planning is the process of developing a student’s individualized education program (IEP).  High school students must be a part of their IEP development and transition planning. They can be involved in a variety of ways.  For example, when preparing a student to be a part of their IEP planning, a mock meeting can be conducted a few days before, so they are ready and know what to expect.  Student development includes the nitty-gritty details of their educational program.  If practitioners would make one change in their schools to enhance their students’ development, it should be implementing a paid work experience program.  Any kind of work experience, specifically paid work experience, has been proven to have a positive impact on postsecondary outcomes.  Interagency collaboration is, simply put, having the right people in the right seats.  Agency involvement in transition planning creates bridges from school to adult life. Family involvement is crucial to the success of students in high school and beyond.  We need to ensure that parents and or families understand the transition process, they know their input is valuable, and include them in transition planning decisions by scheduling meetings at times they are available or by soliciting their help in conducting transition assessments with their student.  Finally, programmatic structures need to support and provide an environment in which students feel safe to explore and learn.  As the final piece to incorporating the transition-focused components, evaluate the atmosphere in your school and determine if it is an accepting structure and environment for all students.


Although deaf and hard of hearing students represent a small percentage of the disability population, research should continue to highlight what influences their success and positive postsecondary outcomes. Transition-focused education is the ideal vehicle for including an array of experiences, opportunities, and options for students to learn the skills needed when they are in college, working, or both.  As practitioners, we are responsible for the experiences our students have while in high school.  We need to ensure those transition experiences are intentional and deliberate.