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Transition: Success after secondary education for people with CVI

The post-secondary transition can be daunting for CVI families. Here are some helpful tips to begin the planning process.

People with CVI have lots of options after secondary school. Some choose to go to college; others enter the workplace. Everyone’s path is unique. At Perkins, we’re here to support your family’s journey by offering concrete advice and promoting self-advocacy. Here are some helpful tips to begin the planning process. 

Know the timeline.

Usually, kids formally begin the transition process from school between 14 to 16, but it’s important to start thinking of next steps before that (hence this article!). The transition process is usually driven by a transition counselor through your state’s agency for the blind and/or in your school district. This person spends time with your child and family to work toward identifying transition goals, such as college or employment.

Evaluate potential supplemental programs.

Often, summer or weekend programs also help kids gain skills for employment, possibly in conjunction with school. These are generally short-term programs, which are often residential. A transition counselor should help identify the proper program and enroll your child.

These programs are for people with a wide range of visual impairments, including CVI. They’re focused on acquisition of skills, orientation, and mobility. Your child will also develop “pre-employment” skills, such as job awareness, job readiness, exploration of different types of jobs, exploration of their environment, and learning independent living skills, such as cooking and cleaning. An added bonus: Kids get to meet other people going through the same process.

“There’s a valuable social component to those. Students get to hang out with other kids who have similar experiences,” says Leslie Thatcher, director of College Success @ Perkins. Bonus!

Check out our articles on College Success and Workplace Transitions.

Explore the differences between K-12 education and college.

Many people with CVI pursue higher education. It’s a lot different from K-12 education, though. Students need strong self-advocacy skills.

 “It can be hard for families to realize that college is much less hands-on than high school and demands a lot of self-advocacy,” Thatcher says.

Here’s why: The driving legislation that informs service delivery in K-12 schools is called the IDEA, and the IDEA is what informs your student’s level of service and drives a public school education. The same isn’t true of college, which is governed by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 504 Rehab Act. (Learn more about the differences between the IDEA and ADA here.)

In college, “The adult responsibility to move a student through an educational experience goes away,” Thatcher says. The responsibility now rests on the student to advocate, to do the work and to recognize and act when things go wrong. That’s a big change.” 

With the ADA, students need to self-identify to their educational institution as having CVI. And, while the ADA provides protections for students to receive accessible materials, your child must have the skills and capacity to request, attain, and use and manage those materials once they get them. In other words, the ADA offers access—but they won’t  modify the curriculum for your child any longer. There are no more benchmarks, goals, and objectives. It’s important to realize that.

Set your child up for success.

We understand: It might seem like your child is jumping off a ledge without a safety net when contemplating college. However, there’s lots you can do to help them prepare.

In general, college prep courses include four years of English, three years of math, two years of lab science, two years of social studies, and two years of a world language.

Remember: Your child will need to be enrolled in a full-time college course load to receive any need-based financial aid and sometimes state-based financial aid, such as from a commission for the blind.  Being proactive will allow educators to understand opportunities for your student and assess if they have additional learning disabilities while still in the K-12 system and before they arrive on a college campus, Thatcher says.

Many college disability offices might not be familiar with CVI.

“As a family, you want to make sure that there is a full, deep understanding of your student’s learning style, not just from a visual perspective, but from an executive functioning perspective and from other sensory perspectives. When you request accommodations in a college, you need documentation to validate them, such as a certificate of legal blindness or a neuropsychological evaluation. You can’t just say, ‘It’s on my IEP.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Thatcher says. (Check out our helpful resource for questions to ask a college’s Disability Services Office.)

Consider going to college part-time.

College is a big step—for anyone! Visit our college readiness checklist for an assessment of your child’s preparedness for campus life. Many families choose community college to ease the transition from home to campus. Some students start part-time.

“If your student is evolving in their independence and their maturity, part-time enrollment is a bit less expensive. This can often be a real benefit for a student getting to understand the difference between high school expectations and college, and have the time to more effectively develop the skills to meet the increased demands” Thatcher says.

Discover the many alternative paths to further education.

College isn’t a fit for every family, and that’s OK. There are plenty of collaborative paths to education, growth, and happiness after high school.

“A training program may be more appropriate and a much easier path to a job and engagement in their community,” Thatcher says. “There are other paths to gainful employment and meaningful engagement.” 

Denise Fitzgerald, Director of Transition Services at Perkins, recommends Think College, which “create interdependence and cooperative learning on campuses for students for a wide range of students,” she explains. Think College provides resources, technical assistance, and training related to college options for students with disabilities — and manages the only national listing of college programs for students with intellectual disabilities in the United States.

Some kids have co-occurring disabilities. At Perkins, Fitzgerald also leads parents in Person-Centered Planning, a process by which kids lead a team–similar to an IEP meeting, with all the important stakeholders in their education–present to discuss next steps, whether that means a vocational pathway, college, independent living, or something else tailored to their unique needs. 

Plus, most states maintain a commission for the blind or visually impaired that helps with this transition. In Massachusetts, the commission offers:

Fitzgerald also recommends the support and advocacy resources offered through the American Foundation for the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind.

Keep an open mind.

What worked for your child’s friend with CVI might not work for yours. There is no correct path or right answer when it comes to college.

“Allow your child time to learn the skills they need in a pace that makes sense for them, to get them toward their goals in the long run — not on the timeline of any other student,” Thatcher urges.

Embrace creative next steps.

Now could be the time for your child to blaze a new trail: Instead of college or a job, some families opt to think outside the box. For example, some people with CVI consider a gap year before college.

 “This can be a huge gift to give your child to perhaps work on blindness-related skills, such as orientation and mobility, which is often not given adequate time to develop in high school; independent living skills; how to work in non-visual or other safe ways in a kitchen; managing money; and a million other things,” Thatcher says.  

Thatcher recognizes that “time off” might seem unthinkable due to social expectations. She urges parents to push back against the mainstream. A gap year can offer kids time to gain a deeper understanding of their skills, goals, and interests, with the support of a transition counselor. They also gain maturity, which might be delayed for students with vision loss.

Parent Perspective: Transition

“Introduce a really good work ethic early. At a transition conference once, I heard an employer say that he can teach anyone the job, but he can’t teach the soft skills that make someone successful. Soft skills are so important, and maladaptive ones are really hard to unteach at 18.

Have your child do volunteer work, like reading to the elderly in a nursing home, reading to dogs at a shelter, or helping at a soup kitchen. Our kids spend most of their lives with others doing for them; they need to learn the joy and satisfaction of doing for others.

Teach commitment. This translates into getting up and showing up on time for your job everyday, no matter how much you don’t feel like it. We need to teach our kids that sometimes they don’t feel like it, but they have the responsibility to show up.

Give your child the power to make decisions independently. Initiative is a tough one, as many kids are so used to adults monitoring every aspect of their lives. This is all about self-confidence and being heard! I know personally this is a big one for us, as years of therapy has created too much dependence on adults.”

–Delia, parent to an adult with CVI and a teenager with CVI

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