The transition from school age to the adult world is stressful for young adults with disabilities and their families. Luckily, more and more families are beginning their planning early and, if they are lucky, they are aided by committed and knowledgeable school personnel and representatives from organizations who are familiar with adult services. If they are REALLY lucky, they have a team who pays close attention to the vision the young person has for their future.
The Real Friends Project has been able to spend time with many people in those challenging transition years. There appears to be lots of attention paid to future “work” opportunities for young people with disabilities (although too often sheltered workshops, “day habs” and other segregated options are the most prominent items on the menu). Planning also emphasizes living options for the young person (although here, too, the menu is dominated by the congregated/segregated group homes). Sometimes planning includes opportunities for some sort of post-secondary education, but this is still pretty rare.
But most rare of all in transition planning is close attention to relationships between our young people with disabilities and their peers without disabilities. And when it is discussed, it is usually as an afterthought, something to add after all the “important” stuff is worked on. And often it is thought of as another program, as if relationships are a separate piece of the life of someone with disability, instead of something that is—or should be—woven throughout their lives.
The Real Friends Project recommends that “relationships” and “friendships” be given priority throughout the entire transition planning process. Our work clearly shows that potential friendships are wherever people live learn, work and play, so…
- asking “Under what circumstances can my son/daughter live that maximizes opportunities for him/her to have friends?” will likely yield a different answer than asking “Where can we find the nicest house for our son/daughter?”.
- knowing that young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have some opportunities to attend college with their peers without disabilities adds a new and wonderful dimension to transition planning.
- thinking of work as a place to meet others, establish relationships with co-workers who may not have disabilities and feel fulfilled, will lead you down a different path than if you are merely planning for a “safe” place to spend the day for a (meager) paycheck.
- expanding our knowledge of the nearly endless list of activities that people with and without disabilities can enjoy together increases the possibilities of friendships and a fulfilling life.
If we consider relationships and friendships as core elements of all of our transition planning, it is likely that bridges will be built into the community. If we neglect to consider those elements, we are more likely to build moats around the very people we care about the most.