When the Bus Stops Coming: Transition From Public Special Education

By Karen B. Mariscal

Parents of children with significant intellectual disabilities who are unlikely to be able to fully support themselves as independent adults face a huge transition when their children leave the public education system.  Assuming they are not able to graduate from high school, your school district will educate them until the day they turn 22.  However, on your child’s 22nd birthday, the bus that has been showing up every morning will not stop, no matter what time of year that date falls.  Your entitlement is over.  Now what do you do?

As a parent you need to begin thinking about this day ahead of time, long before it actually arrives.  Start by envisioning what you want your child to be doing as an adult.  Beginning when he is 14 or 15, encourage self- advocacy, seek meaningful vocational experiences for him, and provide opportunities for his strengths, desires, and interests to be put to use in the best possible ways.  Parents must plan, network, partner, ask questions, and attend trainings and conferences that will connect you with other parents, guardians, professionals and agencies.  Your work is cut out for you! (But what else is new?)

CHAPTER 688 – “TURNING 22 LAW”

Chapter 688 (commonly referred to as the ”Turning 22 Law”) provides a two-year planning process for young adults with severe disabilities who will lose their entitlement to special education at the age of 22, or at the time of graduation from high school, whichever comes first.  The law creates a single point of entry for your child into the world of adult services.  Accordingly, the first step in obtaining adult services for your child is to enroll them in 688 services. 

To be eligible for Chapter 688 services, a person must:

1) Be receiving special education paid for by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts;
2) Need continuing habilitative services at the time of turning 22 or graduating from special education; and
3) Be unable to work competitively (without supports) for more than 20 hours per week at the time of leaving school.

An individual is automatically eligible for Chapter 688 if receiving SSI, SSDI, or registered with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. Eligibility for individuals not automatically eligible is determined based on the individual's records, work evaluations or a personal interview, when necessary.  All appeals are directed to the Bureau of Transitional Planning in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS).  Note that eligibility for Chapter 688 services does not mean your child is eligible for Department of Developmental Services (“DDS”) – it is just the first step. 

Your local school system must make the 688 referral – you can’t do it yourself -- while the student is still in school. The local school system typically decides which human service agency might best meet the student’s needs as an adult and sends the referral directly to that agency.  If an individual is being referred to DDS, the referral typically is sent directly to one of the DDS area offices.  If a student or parent feels that a 688 referral should be made, but it hasn’t been, she should contact the special education department at her school.  In order to facilitate planning, DDS suggests that referrals be made at age 18 to coincide with DDS adult eligibility age requirements, although it is not required to be made until two years before a student graduates or turns 22.

Parents should do the following, as part of the ongoing transition planning process:

1) Make sure the Chapter 688 referral is discussed at the IEP Team meeting at least two years before the student is expected to graduate or turn 22.

2) Ask the school to submit a 688 referral for their child.

3) It must be signed by the parent, legal guardian, or by the young adult who is 18 or older.

4) Request a copy of the form that is submitted.

5) Consider applying for for any individual who may meet the 688 eligibility criteria.

(Note that eligibility for 688 is more general than eligibility for DDS.   Individuals eligible for 688 have a variety of diagnoses or disabilities. Eligibility for DDS is more specific. An individual must be a person with intellectual disabilities and meet other eligibility criteria currently specified by DDS.)

If your child is found eligible for 688 services, she will be entered into the adult human services system of Massachusetts, and the Transition Agency will help you develop an Individual Transition Plan “ITP” for what happens when your child turns 22.  

A Transition Coordinator, sometimes called the “688 Coordinator,” will be your case manager at the local DDS Area Office and the primary link to information and assistance from DDS during the transition from special education to adult life. The Transition Coordinator will help the individual and family understand what DDS can offer and assist with identifying and securing requested supports, subject to MASSCAP (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Process) prioritization for those supports. Soon after graduation or when an individual leaves school and transition into adult supports, his or her case will be transferred to an adult Service Coordinator within the Area Office.

The ITP (Individual Transition Plan) is the document that specifies what kinds of support the student or family is requesting upon leaving special education. The Transitional Agency (usually, but not always DDS) arranges and chairs a meeting or meetings in order to develop the ITP. The ITP meeting is normally held about one year before the student is ready to leave school (often as part of the annual IEP meeting), and typically involves the student, family members, school personnel, and other individuals who know the student well.  The Transitional Agency representative is responsible for inviting other agency staff, as appropriate to the student e.g. MRC.  Students and their families may also invite others whom they feel might be helpful.
 
The purpose of an ITP meeting is to develop a plan that includes the interests, skills and needs of the person. The ITP does not contain specific goals and objectives, or identify specific provider agencies. The ITP functions as more of a “blueprint” of the student’s requested support needs.  Note that supports identified in the ITP are not guaranteed or create an entitlement; they are subject to prioritization, appropriation and availability. 

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