Resources and Guides

Expert Advice on Transition Planning

“Just take any step, whether small or large. And then another and repeat day after day. It may take months, maybe years, but the path to success will become clear” – Aaron Ross

Transitions occur in every person’s life. For the special needs population, a transition can be especially stressful and may require additional planning and time. Merle and I have felt overwhelmed at certain points in Catherine’s life, especially when there were looming changes before us. We’ve been fortunate to have special needs professionals to coach us and provide tools to help her at pivotal points of change.

Julia Chalker image Julia Chalker, Transition Coordinator with the Prosper Independent School District, offers the following tips for families to support their children’s progress through a transition:

1. Think with the end in mind. 

Parents should consider what their long-term goals for their child is and determine the tools and skills will be needed to obtain those goals. For example, if employment is a long-term goal, what can you be working on with your child beginning at a young age that will be needed in order to be employable? This might include being able to interact appropriately with others, asking for help or clarification when needed, or maintaining personal hygiene. If a long-term goal is to live in a more independent living situation, skills to work on might include participating in transactions at the grocery store or a having a clear recognition of stranger danger.

We take Catherine to the grocery store with us quite often and allow her to scan and bag groceries. This is a skill set she we know she will need on the road to self-advocacy.

Catherine in grocery store

2. Set realistic expectations

Realistic expectations are sometimes difficult for parents as they face the reality that their child may not be able to complete certain tasks individually. Set them up for success and focus on responsibilities where they can succeed. Once you determine a task they can accomplish, intentionally break the task into small attainable components they can complete. As you coach them, celebrate the small wins in a huge way. 

Catherine makes lunch daily – almost on her own. At first, she was only responsible for selecting the items for lunch the night before. After sometime, she started to put mayo on her bread and then moved to building the sandwich. By setting realistic achievable goals, she is learning a skill that she can use throughout her life. We also see personal satisfaction and growth that carries over to other areas.

Catherine makes lunch

3. Prepare for change

Routine is the mainstay to success for an individual with special needs. If there are changes on the horizon, communicate it in an effective way to help them prepare for what’s ahead.

  • Give them adequate warning before a change occurs. 
  • Make use of count times and visual cues (checklists & written or picture schedules) to help them adjust.
  • If changes occur at home, fully communicate with the teacher, counselor or caregiver (and request that they do the same to communicate changes to you).

If there is a change to Catherine’s schedule, Merle and I will let her know about the modification days in advance, sometimes multiple times a day. We try to explain in a manner she can understand. This improves the chance making the adjustment.  

Julia encourages a practical and intentional mindset to achieve the most for individuals with special needs. Her approach and strategies have served many families across our school district. We hope you found her advice helpful to address the changes your child encounters.

Please join us next time for part two where Julia provides crucial transitional stages at every level of education.


  1. Valerie Mayo says:

    I enjoy reading about your progress little lady. Continue to succeed. Mom and Dad great job.

  2. Savannah Jones says:

    Great article! I agree with the process and share the following example: we had trouble with our grandson’s using the toilet for defecating. Nothing seemed to work until we started announcing that we were taking him out of pull-ups. We did that for several days. When we took him out of pull-ups on his birthday, he immediately stopped defecating on himself – no accidents ever from that point!

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