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Planning Transitions to Preschool
by Lavada Minor
A transition is a change from one service or program to another. Families of infants and toddlers with dual sensory impairments (vision and hearing), including multiple disabilities, are likely to experience more transitions than families of other children. One major transition families of toddlers with disabilities face is moving from home or center-based to preschool programs. This change involves not only different settings such as regular or special preschool programs, but also changes from the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) to the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), and from family focused to child focused services. This chapter will discuss important considerations when transitioning toddlers with dual sensory impairments and other multiple disabilities from home and center-based infant programs to preschool programs.
Federal law requires a formal and planned transition process for toddlers with disabilities. Part H of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Amendment (IDEA) of 1986 (PL.99-157) requires that children with disabilities from birth to three receive early intervention services to address their special needs. It also mandates the development of an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) for families and their children with disabilities. The IFSP is a formal document which states the child's current level of development, goals, outcomes, needs, as well as the strengths and needs of family (Coleman, 1993). Developing the IFSP consists of input from the family as they identify their concerns, priorities, and resources. Transition steps to special education preschool services should be included in the IFSP when appropriate.
Although planned transitions to preschools are required by federal laws, special planning is needed to assist parents during this process. Transitions may occur for reasons other than the child's age, these may include the child's developmental needs, a newly identified diagnosis or family relocation. Transition to preschool may occur when families are facing other stressful events related to their child's multiple disabilities or their daily lives.
Eric is a 28 month old little boy who was born with cortical visual impairment. At 24 months of age, his parents informed their new early interventionist that their son did not seem to respond to speech. The early interventionist and the parents made careful observations of Eric's responses to voices and toy sounds. His lack of response supported the early interventionist's recommendation for an audiological evaluation. Eric was later diagnosed by an audiologist with a severe bi-lateral hearing loss. He was fitted with his first pair of hearing aids by the time he was 33 months. At the same time, Eric's maternal grandmother passed away. When Eric turned three years old, he started a center based program for preschoolers with hearing impairments and other disabilities. His program receives consultant services from a teacher certified in the area of visual impairments. His early interventionist no longer visits his home and he rides to the center on the school bus. Eric's mother welcomed the idea of him attending a center-based program three days a week. However, encountering a new diagnosis, changing of services, and managing the wearing of his hearing aids in a short period of time was very stressful for her.
Transitioning to new programs may change the types of services the family receives and the level of parent involvement. During home visits with their early interventionist, parents have opportunities to observe and participate in the services provided to their child. Parents also benefit from ongoing communication with their service provider which may support the development of close and trusting relationships. These relationships may end when the child transitions to a preschool program because special education services are usually provided outside of the home.
Transition brings a whole new set of roles and responsibilities from the initial stages of planning until the child is actually enrolled and attending the new program. Ample time is required in order to provide a smooth and successful transition from one program to another. The transition process should begin at least six months before the actual transition date to allow the school district or other receiving agencies sufficient time to prepare for a child with a low incidence disability and other unique learning needs. Practical considerations, as well as state or agency policies, may dictate transition timelines. The best time to start the transition process should be determined by the individual child's needs and family's situations.
A carefully planned transition is important to the family, child, and service providers because: 1) it will prevent interruptions in services; 2) it will provide parents with an opportunity to participate as equal partners in the transition process; 3) it will facilitate the adjustment of the child and family to the new program; and 4) it will eliminate the duplication of tests and planning meetings when the child is receiving multiple services (Conn-Powers, Ross-Allen, Holburn, 1990). Planning a transition takes time, communication, patience, and sensitivity to the needs and emotions of the family and their child. Planning in advance will minimize the stress caused by changes the family will experience, reduce fears of the unknown, help families to build new relationships with staff and become involved in the new program, support the child during the transition process and help him or her adapt to the new environment (Smith, 1993).
Stages in the transition process
The initial stages of the transition process should include five major steps: 1) developing a planning team; 2) setting goals and identifying problems; 3) defining roles; 4) developing a written transition planning procedure (Conn-Powers, Ross-Allen, & Holburn, 1990); and 5) following-up and evaluation of the child's adaptation to the new program and the transition process (Smith, 1993).
Developing a planning team
Developing a planning team is one of the most crucial components of a carefully planned transition. Toddlers who have visual and hearing impairments with other disabilities require services from many specialists. This may complicate the organization of a planning team. Team members may consist of the parent, friends, relatives, a representative from the receiving school district, current service providers such as the occupational therapist, physical therapist, orientation and mobility specialist, members from the State Deaf Blind Project, a teacher certified in the area ofdeaf and hard of hearing and a teacher certified in the area of vision impairment.
The initial planning meetings may not include a representative from the receiving school if one has not yet been identified. There will be many issues to discuss about the child's skills, developmental needs, eligibility criteria and the type of programs to consider (i.e. inclusive setting, special day classroom & day class.) Establishing a planning team provides opportunities for everyone involved with the child to express their concerns and opinions on transition needs or potential concerns. The most optimal setting for the child must be based on his or her individual needs.
When children with multiple disabilities and dual sensory impairments are placed in inclusive settings, there must be adequate supports in order for the child to be successful. For example, preschoolers with low vision and hearing loss will need learning environments which are well structured and consistent so that they will know what to expect from their classroom and its routine. Environmental adaptations may include providing color contrast at meal time (i.e., red Jell-O served in a white or yellow dish), shelves and materials labeled in Braille, or placing the child closer to the teacher as she reads the group a story.
Some questions that the team should address at this point may be:
- How long will the child remain in his current program?
- When are the services to be terminated and started somewhere else?
- What are the family's preferences for future services?
- Is there another family with a similar child who can share their transition experience to preschool with the current family?
- When will the changes take place?
Setting goals and identifying challenges
Once the team has been established and the child's current abilities and needs have been identified, the group can begin to develop goals and identify possible challenges and solutions. Problems may arise because of the different types of demands that may be placed on the child and family such as location, transportation, and increased class size. Families may select a program which may not have staff members trained to work with children with multiple disabilities. Families moving from a home-based program to a center based program will be confronted with a different structure, curriculum, activities, and other children with varying disabilities or non-disabled peers. Parents may have questions about the philosophy or the practices of the new program, hours of the new program's operation, transportation safety, differences in the needs of other children in the program, and the teacher's ability to use their child's equipment safely (Rains, Rosenkoetter, & Fowler, 1991; Smith, 1993).
Staff members from the sending program may also have concerns such as the adjustment of the child and family, continuity of services, and the child's ability to handle the demands of the new setting (Smith, 1993). Different approaches can be taken to help prepare the family, child and receiving agency for the transition. Each team member has a role to play in a carefully planned transition.
The role of the sending program
The sending program will play a vital role in preparing the family for the transition because of an established relationship with the child and family. The sending program can also discuss with parents how their participation in the future program may differ from their current program. Preschool settings are usually more structured and child-focused than early intervention programs. The team can discuss the differences in the new program and suggest ways the parent can remain involved. Information for parents should include:
- Information about the new program (i.e., contact person, telephone numbers, and population of children attending the program)
- Copies of recent reports and evaluations
- Information about services available to children who are dual sensory impaired. Parents have many questions such as:
- What kinds of specialized services will the child receive at the new program?
- How frequently will the services be available to the child?
- Will the services be provided directly through center staff or through consultation?
- Will the services be provided within the classroom setting or in pull out programs?
Information about the new program's ability and willingness to include the child in a typical preschool program. Some questions to consider are:
- Does the program have special materials that the child might need?
- Is the program flexible and willing to make important adaptations to include the new child and meet his/her visual and auditory needs?
- How much extra help is available in the classroom?
- What is the teacher/child ratio?
- Strategies to facilitate parental involvement, i.e., researching appropriate settings in the community, introducing their child to peers, volunteering at different times of the routine (recess, class time, and special activities)
- Strategies to maintain regular communication with the teacher i.e., communication book, telephone calls, message boards, and notes sent in the child's backpack
The sending program should also share relevant information about the child with the receiving agency in order to assist with the family's transition to the new program.Suggested information and materials for the receiving agency should include
- A contact person and telephone number from the sending agency to maintain contact and provide assistance as needed
- Information about the child that will help the new program understand the child's previous services and his ways of communicating and interacting with his environment. This information may include the following:
- Background information
- Medical history
- Formal evaluations/assessment results
- Previous IFSP
- Individual programming needs
- Specialized equipment needs, including all forms of assistive technology
- Video tapes or photos to demonstrate details about specific strategies, how the child communicates with others, positions for play, table activities or meal times; use of adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs or braces, and orientation and mobility lessons; or the child's use of special equipment
- Communication systems used with the child in his previous settings
- Adaptations and supports provided to support the child's play (i.e., materials used to keep toys within the child's reach, adaptive utensils)
Preparing the child
The parent and early interventionist from the sending agency should visit the proposed classroom, meet with the receiving teacher and inquire about the curriculum, routine, and activities. If the receiving teacher is not designated, the sending teacher could visit the program, review the curriculum, and observe activities taking place. This will provide some information about the types of expectations and skills that should be focused on in the current program to help the child participate in the new program.
The demands placed on the child will depend on his abilities and the expectation of the new program. Children moving from an infant program to a preschool program will be expected to participate actively as they become familiar with the new environment and its routine. These expectations may be particularly challenging for those children with dual sensory impairment.
Another change that may be particularly challenging for the child and the family is the expectation for the child to travel alone to school and attend class without family members. New encounters with peers, unknown adults, and different environmental feedback may be overwhelming for some preschool children when they are away from the family. Many of these stressors can be addressed in advance to help the child become familiar with his new experiences and environments. For example, an object such as a new stuffed animal backpack could be used to indicate to the child that he will be going to his new school. He will wear the backpack when the early interventionist and parent visits the new program with the child if appropriate. The child could be introduced to the classroom by the orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor while the other children are outdoors. This strategy would reduce environmental noises so that the child could make the most of his visual and auditory abilities. The child could be shown where his backpack will be kept and placed there during his first visit. The O&M instructor could next introduce the child to the playground and to the other children. Later they can all return indoors as a group.
The backpack may be used as an object cue in the calendar box (at home or infant program) to signify when the child will be going to preschool. Other objects that may be used to prepare the child for the transition include: providing the child with a familiar object from home such as a toy; a cassette recording of familiar music, environmental sounds or voices of family members; or a family member's personal belonging such as a piece of clothing. Objects and materials from the new program could possibly be used in the home.
The role of the parent
Parents will respond differently according to the needs of their family. It is not uncommon for parents to express excitement about their new found personal time. However, they may also experience feelings of guilt. In some families, changes may be difficult as they consider issues such as transportation, their child's specialized equipment, or complications around feeding or breathing needs (Hains et al. 1991). Aside from these concerns, parents must also face the responsibility of selecting the most appropriate program for their child, negotiating a new schedule, finding new services, educating personnel about their child's special needs, and preparing their child and family for the change (Hains et al.1988.) Transitions may bring about additional changes that may include the following: the use of an orthopedic walker, adaptive mobility devices, braces, FM systems, special education buses arriving at their home, new terminology for the parent, new service providers and a multitude of other changes. While transitions cannot be eliminated, parents can be better prepared through collaboration with and support from the planning team.Some ways parents may help prepare the child:
- Visiting the new program with their child
- Arranging visits to the new program with the early interventionist; Helping the child become familiar with the new teachers, classroom and the school
- Arranging after-school activities or visits with children from the new program
- Riding on the bus to the new school with their child (Hains, Fowler, & Chandler, 1988).
The role of the receiving program
The receiving program and staff members may be anxious when a child with multiple disabilities transitions into their setting. Their experiences may be limited to non-disabled children or children with mild disabilities. The environment, staff, volunteers, and children will be prepared for the new child if the transition is planned carefully (Smith, 1993). Some suggestions for the receiving program are:
- Make arrangements to meet the family and child before the child begins
- Identify parent's concerns and plan together for the change
- Provide pictures, brochures, tours, time for observation for the family or previous service providers
- Identify physical barriers that may impede the child's access
- Conduct environmental analysis to determine modifications for children with visual and hearing needs
- Identify and supply special materials and equipment needed (adaptive seating, eating utensils, colorful and musical toys, trikes)
- Arrange the classroom environment so that children feel safe to explore and socialize
- Adapt the environment to reduce the noise level by using shelves as dividers, chair tips to reduce the noise of moving chairs, adding carpet to bare floors and using foam place mats for hammering or construction activities
- Provide appropriate lighting throughout classroom
- Prepare volunteers, parents and classmates about the new student (i.e. pictures, introducing new equipment before the child arrives)
- Provide the staff information about the child's specific diagnosis and needs
- Obtain strategies used in previous program
- Clearly define the role of aides and para-professionals as they assist with the child
- Provide in-service training and information on young children with dual sensory impairment
- Provide support to classroom staff from specialized consultants
- Access technical assistance from the State Deaf-Blind Services
- Project for consultation as needed
- Evaluate the child's adaptation to the new program and participation in classroom activities
Developing written transition planning procedures
Once the challenge and goals have been identified, the team is ready to assign responsibilities to its members. Specific activities, strategies, and responsibilities must be agreed upon with time lines established in writing. Written transition planning procedures help to keep the group focused and on task. Each member has responsibilities identified in writing and everyone knows what is expected. A written plan also provides a more simplified understanding of the program's transition procedures and policies. In cases where a team member will no longer be available, the written plan will assist in maintaining continuity and limiting disruptions. Through developing its own transition plan, the team will be able to identify its unique needs and concerns (Conn-Powers et. al, 1990).
Follow-up and evaluation
The final step in the transition process is to follow-up on the family's and child's adjustments to their new program and to evaluate the process. This can be planned during the final IFSP meeting before the transfer occurs. However, funding realities may limit follow up activities. Some questions to consider are:
- How is the child adjusting to the new program?
- How does the family feel about the new program? Is it a good match?
- Are there any problems with which the family needs additional help?
- Does the receiving teacher need additional information and training?
- Does the program need more consultation or direct services from someone trained with children with dual sensory impairment such as the State Deaf-Blind Services?
- Are transition goals being met?
Follow-up procedures allow for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the transition process. Was the planned transition effective? What was the impact on the child? Which things worked well and which ones needed improvement? This feedback can be useful in future transition plans for the family's next change and the professionals' future participation in the transition process. Parents should also be encouraged to visit the new program after their child has enrolled to provide feedback and assist with the child's adjustment. Providing these parents with adequate support, information, and guidance will help them deal with the challenges associated with transitioning children with dual sensory impairment and multiple disabilities into preschool programs.
Transitioning from early intervention programs to preschool programs involves many changes that are stressful and confusing for families. Planning transitions carefully is necessary to provide everyone involved in the transition process adequate time to share information, obtain special materials and equipment, learn new skills, and become familiar with the unfamiliar.
Coleman, J.G., (1993). The early intervention dictionary: A multidisciplinary guide to terminology. Rockville, Maryland: Woodbine House.
Conn-Powers, M.C., Ross-Allen, J., & Holburn, S., (1990). Transition of young children into the elementary education mainstream. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 9(4), 91-105.
Hains, A., Rosenkoetter, S., & Fowler, S., (1991). Transition planning with families in early intervention programs. Infants and Young Children, 3(4), 38-47.
Hains, A., Fowler, S., & Chandler, L., (1988). Planning school transitions: Family and professional collaboration. Journal of the Division for Early Childhood. 12, 108-115.
Smith, D., (1993). Passport for change: Transition planning. Hints and helps for families with infants and toddlers.
Chen, D., & McCann, M. E., (1993). Selecting a program: A guide for parents of infants and preschoolers with visual impairments. Blind Children's Center. Los Angeles, CA. 1(800) 222-3567 or (213) 664-2153.
Winton, PJ., Turnbull, A.F, & Blucher, J.B. (1984). Selecting a preschool: A guide for parents with handicapped children. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.