It’s Never Too Early! IEP Teams and Families Can Think College for Students with Intellectual Disability

group of 6 elementary-aged kids crowded together, smiling, with blue sky in the background

A PACER Center advocate vividly recalls the pivotal moment in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meeting she attended with the mother of a young boy with Down syndrome. As the school district administrator began to make a case for placing him in a segregated special education classroom, the parent interjected, “But we are planning for our son to attend an inclusive college program when he grows up. How will he be able to be included in college if he can’t be included in kindergarten?” Based on that long-range goal, the team agreed to the placement and set him on a route to the future rich with possibilities. 

For students with Intellectual Disability (ID), having college as a long-range goal can change the entire trajectory of their K-12 education. While in high school, and earlier if possible, students and their families can establish college as a “measurable postsecondary goal.” This will set the stage for high expectations and inclusive education settings that are known to be key factors for post-school success living, learning, and working in the community.

To adopt a goal as their own, students need to be able to picture the possibility. The IEP Team, including the family, can work together to identify ways to provide inclusive opportunities, experiential learning, and college-preparation instruction and activities in the student’s IEP.  The team will want to think about goals and objectives that will lead to skills needed for success in postsecondary education such as using electronic communication, choosing courses based on career goals, signing up for extracurricular activities, managing a schedule and learning how to access information online.

College is often a pathway to a career, and integrated employment will be an important component of the college program. Gaining community-based work experience while in high school and developing key employment soft skills will contribute to success in college and beyond.

The goal of high school and transition planning is to prepare students for life after high school. How can IEP teams help prepare students prepare for success in inclusive college programs? Use this checklist to guide the selection of transition goals and activities that will likely be key factors in making the possibility of college a reality.