When your child becomes a teenager, you'll need to start planning for his or her future after high school. Where will your child live as an adult? Is college or vocational school an option? What about employment?

It's a lot to consider, but transition planning can help. With some careful thought and help from your child's school, doctors, and your state's government agencies, you can make the move to adulthood as smooth as possible for you and your child.

Here are 6 steps to consider.

Step 1: Start the Transition Plan

Some schools start planning for a teen's future at age 13 or 14; by federal law, a transition individualized education program (IEP) must be started by age 16. The transition IEP addresses whether a teen is able to:

  • remain in high school until the end of the year that he or she turns 21. This extra time can allow your child to complete graduation requirements, or attend vocational rehabilitation to learn job skills and try jobs of interest. Students also may focus on developing independent living skills, including how to get around on public transportation and handle money.
  • complete the requirements for a high school diploma. If your teen is not on the diploma track, what will it take for him or her to earn a certificate of completion or attendance?
  • go to college or trade school, and if so, how to get there.

If higher education is not a good fit, maybe:

  • employment with or without support from a job coach; or
  • a day program, in which your teen engages in the arts and other activities.

The IEP team will talk with you and your teen about goals for the future.

The transition IEP also addresses where your teen will live in adulthood. If independent living, supervised living, or a group home are options, the IEP may outline what supports need to be in place to make this possible. This could include instruction on the basics of navigating the world alone, such as how to take a public bus, or lessons on how to manage money and plan healthy meals.

Step 2: Register Your Teen

You state's developmental disabilities agency may be able to connect you with programs and services that benefit your teen. For your teen to be eligible, you must register him or her with the state's developmental disabilities agency. Waiting lists for certain programs, such as group home placement, can be as long as 10 years, so register as early as possible.

To learn more about the benefits available to your teen and how to apply for assistance, visit the U.S. government's Benefit Finder.

Step 3: Explore Education After High School

If your teen is interested in pursuing higher education or job training, but you're not sure what would be a good fit, look into what's available. There are many paths that people can take, including:

  • Traditional 4-year colleges. Colleges and universities should have an office of disabilities services, which can connect your teen with services and programs that can help. For example, some schools offer support programs, peer mentoring, and flexible schedules to accommodate your teen's pace of learning. Online degree programs may be beneficial for students who learn better outside a classroom setting.
  • Community and 2-year colleges. Some community colleges have special programs for adults with developmental disabilities. See if there's one in your area.
  • Vocational or technical/trade schools that give teens hands-on training in a variety of trades.
  • Adult education that teaches life skills, such as cooking, cleaning, job training, and financial literacy. If your son or daughter didn't have these classes in high school, they may be offered through your local community college.

When deciding what's best for your teen, sit down together and talk about interests and abilities. If you need help deciding what sort of real-world job skills your teen has, consider talking to a vocational counselor. A vocational counselor can help identify skills that employers need.

Remember that your teen is still growing and learning every day. By the time high school ends, he or she may decide to go in a different direction. So be flexible and keep the options open as you plan for the future.

Step 4: Do the Legal Work

When kids turn 18, no matter what their abilities, they're considered adults in the eyes of the law. If your teen cannot make decisions about medical or financial affairs, consider securing a power of attorney. This will let you continue to make medical or financial decisions on your teen's behalf.

Also, look into health insurance options. For now, adult children can remain on a parent's private health insurance until age 26. After that age, a young adult may qualify for health coverage through Medicaid. Your teen also may qualify for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), so find out how to ensure that he or she gets all the benefits to which he or she is entitled.

Now is also time to take another look at your will. You might have other children who are coming into adulthood. Consider talking with your other kids about the care your teen will need in adulthood, and whether they want to be involved in that care.

Step 5: Address Issues of Sexuality

Your teen's body is maturing. This means that he or she might want to have a romantic relationship that may include sex. If your teen is able, have him or her talk to the doctor about protection from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Unfortunately, people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of sexual assault. So it's important to talk with your teen about appropriate versus inappropriate touch and sexual behavior. Let your teen know to come to you if he or she ever feels uncomfortable, or if someone touches your teen in an inappropriate way.

Step 6: Find New Doctors

You may have relied on the same team of pediatricians, specialists, and therapists for your child's entire life. But most child-focused health care providers will require that your teen transition to adult care by age 21.

Talk with the current care providers for referrals to others who can care for your teen in adulthood. Also, friends, support groups, or national autism awareness groups might be able to recommend providers.

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