November 13, 2015Byline: Alix HackettPlanning for your child’s next step is never easy, especially if your son or daughter has a visual impairment. At a recent Perkins School for the Blind workshop for parents, Transition Coordinator Denise Fitzgerald shared advice on how to help children gain the skills and confidence they need to successfully transition from school to adult life. Here are 10 of her tips: Begin with the end in mind. Parents should start by envisioning a challenging, fulfilling life for their child. Does it consist of college? A job? A home of their own? “Don’t just think about their graduation day, go further,” said Fitzgerald. “Expand your thinking about what your student might be doing (next).” Transition is the beginning, not the end. Start young. Encourage your child to contribute around the house, no matter how young they are. Whether it’s unloading the dishwasher or hanging up a coat, teaching children to perform small chores builds confidence and helps them develop independent living skills. Pursue work opportunities. Help your child experience as many jobs as possible through work placements or internships. At Perkins School for the Blind, students are exposed to a wide array of vocations from a young age. As a result, they are better prepared to identify career goals as young adults. Have a back-up plan. When Fitzgerald helps Perkins students map out their future, she makes sure to include more than one route. “We have a plan A, B, C and D,” she said. Transition can be an uncertain time for students and their families – it’s best to be prepared and flexible. Include your child. Invite your son or daughter to attend transition planning meetings and include them in the conversation, even if they can’t actively contribute. “Have them participate in what their life is going to be,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s about them.” Take a holistic approach. Many parents focus their transition planning around college or careers, but it’s also about building a happy life, said Fitzgerald. “Think about your own life, it’s not just work,” she said. “We want our kids to have meaningful friendships, healthy bodies and healthy minds.” Put activities in context. Whenever possible, have your child participate in practical, real-life activities. For example, have your child purchase ingredients for their lunch, and then prepare it independently. “That’s where we see the most progress and growth,” said Fitzgerald. Follow a timeline. “Everything’s a process,” said Fitzgerald. Each state has various requirements that families will need to meet in order to qualify for services and support. A checklist detailing what tasks need to be performed at what age can help families stay on track. Learn the system. When students who are blind in Massachusetts turn 22, most will qualify for some type of state service. Explore your options and the application requirements well in advance of that day. Don’t ignore assessments. They may seem like a pain, but assessments provide valuable information about your child that state agencies use to determine eligibility for services, Fitzgerald said. “Those scores guide the adult agencies in planning for your kid,” she said. “Anything up to 18 is absolutely crucial.” Perkins School for the Blind offers a Pre-Employment Program for students and young adults ages 15-22, as well as workshops on a variety of transition topics. Check the calendar for upcoming events.