Most teenagers can’t wait to leave the nest and dive into (almost) adult life — be it on campus or in the workplace. Yet for adolescents with learning disabilities or cognitive disorders, the prospect of independence after high school remains daunting.

How can you help your child prepare for the real world, no matter what learning issues he carries with him? Giving him the right support and preparation — whether he’s headed for college, vocational school, or full-time employment — is essential. It’s also not rocket science.

Help your teen with LD take the first steps to self-sufficiency using these GreatSchools resources:

Making a smooth transition

No matter what path your teen decides to pursue after graduation, these five steps are key to his success:

  1. Don’t wait until the end of senior year to come up with a plan — start the transition process early. Call a family meeting and talk to your teen about his future, then map out a plan together of the most important things he needs to get done during high school to prepare. (Is it touring colleges? Buying the necessary assistive technology? Researching vocational programs? Setting up a monthly budget and checking account? Whatever it is, do what you can to make the process fun and rewarding.)
  2. Encourage your teen to participate in the planning as much as possible. He won’t “buy in” unless it’s his plan, so make sure he feels like he has ownership of it.
  3. Set high expectations for your adolescent but be flexible about his goals and strategies. If you think he’s aiming too high or too low, try creating three plans to explore: the “blue sky” dream, the brass-tacks backup, and a hybrid one that would challenge your teen but not seem too difficult to manage.
  4. Teach your child about his rights under federal law — and how to self-advocate in matters of higher education and work.
  5. Develop your teen’s sense of independence by giving him tasks that mimic challenging, real-life situations. Have him cook a family meal, do the weekly shopping, or conduct an informational job interview with one of your friends.

For more tips and resources, check out these stories on preparing for life after high school.

Checklist for parents

Have you hit on all the essentials of independent living for your teen? Post this list on the fridge to keep your family on track.

Financial literacy: Money matters

  • Open a checking account
  • Teach your teen to balance a checkbook
  • Show him how to use credit cards responsibly
  • Set a monthly budget

Employment: Your teen’s dreams and ideal job

  • Create a résumé
  • Help him prepare by staging mock interviews
  • Have him explore different fields by going on informational interviews
  • Get experience with part-time jobs and internships

College or vocational school: Which is the best fit?

  • Research programs
  • Tour schools and campuses
  • Complete applications

Daily skills: Develop teachable tasks

  • Initiate a chore chart, assess after a month, and redesign if necessary
  • Create monthly real-life challenges

Health and wellness: Get in the habit of healthy living

  • Make a plan together to get your teen to monitor his own habits: diet, media use, and sleep
  • Talk about drugs and drinking
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Updated: May 20, 2015