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Is there life after high school? A primer for teens with learning disorders

Find out how you can help your child with a learning disability or AD/HD prepare for college, work, and independent living.

By Linda Broatch, M.A.

Finding a stable, satisfying job and learning to live independently is challenging for all young people making the transition to adulthood.  But it can be especially daunting for those with learning and attention problems — and their parents.  Because of this, developing specific transition goals and plans can be one of the most important efforts you and your teenager undertake together. 

In this article, we offer an introduction to the transition process, including the roles of parents, the teenager, and the school, some essential components of transition, and what the research tells us about adults with learning disabilities who are successful. In future transition articles, we will explore the topic more deeply by asking experts in the field to share their knowledge and ideas on specific types of transition, including:

No matter what path your child plans to pursue after high school, you can help set the foundation for a successful transition by:

  • Starting the transition process early
  • Encouraging your child to participate as much as possible
  • Adopting an attitude of high expectations, balanced with openness and flexibility about your child's transition goals and strategies
  • Helping your child learn his rights under federal law and how to advocate for himself in higher education and employment
  • Helping your child to become increasingly independent in transition tasks

Why transition assessment, goals, and plans are important

The importance of assessing transition needs, setting transition goals, and planning how to reach those goals becomes clear when we look at research on the performance of young adults with learning and attention problems in high school, post-high school training or education, and employment.

  • A 1999 report indicated that 14 percent of all youth in the country 18 years old and over had not graduated from high school. However, an estimated 36 percent of those high school dropouts were students with learning disabilities. Not surprisingly, unemployment rates among those who drop out of high school are as much as 40 percent higher than for those who completed high school. (Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 1999)
  • It is predicted that, by the year 2006, 18 of the top 25 occupations with the largest and fastest employment growth, high pay, and low unemployment will require at least a bachelor's degree. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1999)
  • Although the percentage of students with learning disabilities enrolled in public and independent four-year colleges and universities increased from just 1 percent in 1988 to 2.4 percent in 20001, this is still a very small proportion. "While college admission rates for students with LD are low, the number of such students admitted each year is increasing steadily," says Loring Brinckerhoff, Ph.D., Director of the Office of Disability Policy at Educational Testing Service. "I think that college admissions personnel are less apprehensive today about accepting an 'otherwise qualified' student with LD than they were just five years ago."

Whether your child pursues vocational training, higher education, or employment (or some combination of these) after high school, three essential factors determine how well he'll be able to deal with life's daily challenges, according to James R. Patton & Caroline Dunn2 (1998):

  • Knowledge of an array of facts, procedures, and events that are part of his environment after high school
  • Mastering specific skills required to function in the many settings in which he must function
  • Identifying, accessing, and using a variety of supports and services that can help him deal with daily events

Linda Broatch has worked for many years in nonprofit organizations that serve the health and education needs of children. She has an M.A. in education, with a focus in child development.

Comments from readers

"What would be the best state to live in for special needs teenage children with learning disabilities that will need future services after house school?"