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The transition experience

Even when the placement is appropriate for the young person, and their needs are being met, the period of transition is still disruptive and confusing for young people with severe learning disabilities in long-term care.

Smart, 2004

Making the transition beyond compulsory education can be a difficult time for young people with learning difficulties and their families (DfES, 2004). Kim and Turnbull (2004) state that

students with severe intellectual disability have more stressful transition experiences than other young people with disabilities.

Valios (2000) reports that parents said this phase of their life was as bad as when their child was diagnosed with disabilities.

Read more:

Brief overview of post-16 transition statutory expectations and scope

Further reading on transition

Support from schools

Too often it seems like if you don't ask the right question, you won't get the right answer. But if you don't know the right question, how are you going to know? I think that is the dilemma that parents have.

Ankeny et al, 2009

What support might families need from schools?

  • Encouragement to look early for adult provision. Typical advice is to begin to look 12 months in advance of their son or daughter leaving school; some parents suggest two years in advance to ensure choice.
  • Very accurate information about their son or daughter's 'real world' levels of independence and likely challenges to services so they can identify a suitable adult provision.
  • Proactive informal contact and guidance for emotional support.
  • Support from school in dealing with Local Authorities.

Egerton, 2005

Preparing for transition

We know that school ends, but I think as parents we tend to live in the today and the now but transition should start our brains thinking about what life is going to be like when school ends and then make a picture of what that's going to look like and how we're going to get there.

Ankeny et al, 2009

Have a look at one parent's adult provision questionnaire.

Find out more about preparation in your school (preferably at post-16) for young people's transitions to new provision. What information and support does your school offer families?

Develop an information sheet for families based on what you have found out, and an advice sheet for staff on how they can support transition. Discuss this with your line manager.

What schools can offer
Sarah and Robert go shopping

A series of workshops for over time from when their son or daughter is aged 14 including information about:

  • Planning and managing transition from age 14, including statutory assessment.
  • How to assess the suitability of possible adult provisions for their son or daughter and what questions to ask.
  • Benefits advice and financial options post-16.
  • Parent rights post-16, relationships with adult provision, their son or daughter as an adult, and how to manage this.

Advice from reputable independent specialists and parents who have previously been through challenging transitions to deliver the workshops are very useful to families.

What to expect following transition

Young people's experiences of the transition to adulthood are helped (or hindered) by factors that are more connected to the environment and context in which transition occurs, than on the actual transition process itself.

Heslop et al, 2002

Help families to know what to expect. Information given by some parents of school leavers suggests that young people may experience:

  • A short honeymoon period (e.g. one to three weeks) followed by 9-18 months to settle, which can be very traumatic for all concerned.
  • Recurrence of challenging behaviours previously resolved.
  • A temporary regression in level of skills.
  • Possible health issues which need to be identified and addressed (e.g. depression and other mental health issues; weight gain; increase in epileptic episodes).

Egerton, 2005


Department for Education and Skills (2004) Removing Barriers to Achievement: the Special Educational Needs Strategy, Nottingham: DfES Publications.

Egerton, J. (2005) From the far side: parents' perceptions of information-sharing to support transition for young people with severe and complex learning disabilities (Masters dissertation), Birmingham: University of Birmingham.

Heslop, P., Mallett, R., Simons, K. and Ward, L. (2002) Bridging the Divide at Transition: What happens for young people with learning difficulties and their families, Kidderminster: BILD.


Hudson, B. (2003) From adolescence to young adulthood: the partnership challenge for learning disability services in England, Disability & Society, 18 (3), 259-276.

Kim, K.H. and Turnbull, A. (2004) Transition to adulthood for students with severe intellectual disabilities: shifting towards person-family interdependent planning, Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 29 (1), 53-57.

Smart, M. (2004) Transition planning and the needs of young people and their carers: the Alumni Project, British Journal of Special Education, 31 (3), 128-137.