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What is Transition?

Young boy smilingTransition is the movement from one stage to another (Unabridged, 2006).  In adapted physical education, the transition phases progress from early childhood programs, elementary school, middle school, high school, and the community (Roth, 2007).

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA):

“Transition Services” means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation. It is also based on the individual child’s needs taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests.

Transitioning from the school setting to the community is a vital step in a person’s life, especially those with special needs. IDEA has provided the opportunity for an individual with special needs a step in the right direction by bridging the gap between high school and the community with transition services.

In the education context, transition refers from a child's adaptation from school life to adult life. Schools are responsible to provide transition services to assist a child with disabilities to successfully access the adult world, through vocational training and/ or through post secondary options.

There are many different transitions in an individual’s lifetime. However, when you have special needs there may be additional transitions in your life.

Ordinary Transitions:

  • Early childhood to elementary school
  • Elementary school to middle school
  • Middle school to high school
  • High school to community

Additional Transitions (Unknown, 2007):

  • Hospital to school
  • Institution to school

Decision about any transition services needs to be taken while keeping in mind the following questions:

  • What are his/her dreams, visions for life as an adult, and strengths?
  • How will he/she use them in building success during high school?
  • Will he/she seek a regular high school diploma requiring a prescribed course of study with possible accompanying proficiency tests?
  • Does he/she have a career interest now?
  • What are the skills needed to be developed or improved to help him/her make progress towards his/her goals?
  • What are the at-risk behaviors that might interfere with his/her success during high school?
  • What school and community activities will he/she participate in?
  • What are the transition services, supports, and accommodations he/she needs for success in high school?

Adapted Physical Education and Transition

One of the terminal goals for children with disabilities should be to facilitate successful student participation in community leisure, recreation, and sports. Giving the student the necessary tools will increase the chances the child/adult will participate as independently as possible. The transition to lifetime physical activity is imperative for individual physical, emotional, cognitive, and social growth for all population (Roth, 2007).

What Are Transition Services?

This scope of activities is necessarily broad, given the many domains of adult life and the problems that far too many former special education students have reported encountering in their post school life. Difficulties in finding or keeping employment, poor integration into the community, lack of a social network, and lack of independence are among the difficulties that these students have experienced (Fardig, Algozzine, Schwartz, Hensel, & Westling, 1985; Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985; Mithaug & Horiuchi, 1983).

When Must Services Be Provided?

According to IDEA, at a minimum, schools must provide services to students who are age 16. As the regulations state in a note, "For all students who are 16 years or older, one of the purposes of the annual IEP meeting will always be the planning of transition services, since transition services are a required component of the IEP for these students (Section 300.344, Note 2). However, a school may provide transition services to younger students when their needs deem it appropriate. This may be particularly important for students with severe disabilities or for those who are at risk of dropping out of school before age 16.

Who Determines What Services Are Needed?

The usual participants at an IEP meeting (e.g., the student's classroom teacher, a school representative, and the parents), and any representative of other agency that are likely to be responsible for providing or paying for transition services to any meeting where transition services will be discussed.

Transition Planning: A Team Effort

Transition services are intended to prepare students to make the transition from the world of school to the world of adulthood. In planning what type of transition services a student needs to prepare for adulthood, the IEP team considers areas such as post secondary education or vocational training, employment, independent living, and community participation. The transition services themselves are a coordinated set of activities that are based on the student's needs, and that take into account his or her preferences and interests. Transition services can include instruction, community experiences, the development of employment and other post- school adult living objectives, and (if appropriate) the acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational assessment.

Steps to Transition

Young boy in oversized wheelchairCommunicate

Communication is key to developing smooth and successful transition programs. Ask the parents/guardians what activities the child/adult enjoys.  Find out if there is an activity the child, adult, or family participates in regularly, or has strong interest in learning.  You may also need to have other personnel involved, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, counselors, doctors, and other members.

    - Example: A parent tells you that Amy enjoys playing soccer


Many children with special needs have difficulty moving to new places and meeting new people.  Allow the child/adult to visit the new facility and meet the people who will work with him/her. Gradually expose your child to the new activities.


Determining the leisure, recreation, and sports interests of the family is the building block to transition. At the elementary level the fundamental skills leading to those activities can be developed.  In the middle and high school level, the family and the student should identify at least two community physical recreation activities of interest and begin to practice those skills directly. The basic skills should be identified and mastered along with participation in the whole activity. Eventually, the student should practice the activity in the actual community setting, with decreasing levels of assistance.


Instruction and practice should be given addressing transportation needs. This can be incorporated into the vocational education of the student, or by the districts transition specialist. Gaining the skills to utilize public transportation is often included in vocational training. Directions on what buses to take to a local recreation facility can be infused into that training.

Therapeutic Recreation?

The specialized skills of a Therapeutic Recreation (TR) Specialist can augment the skills of the Adapted Physical Educator (APE). A qualified TR can be a tremendous asset. Ideally, the school district would hire a TR consultant to collaborate with the Adapted or General Physical Educator in the provision of transition services. It is important to recognize the tremendous contribution the TR specialists can provide. Although APE and TR are very distinct fields, they can be quite complementary to develop 'best practice' in transition. For more information relating to the role of TR in the public schools, visit Project T.R.I.P.S.

Community Integration

There are many community facilities that offer recreation opportunities. Get acquainted with the operators and employees of local bowling centers, miniature golf facilities, parks and recreation departments, driving ranges, and movie theaters. Many shopping centers offer indoor walking hours. 'Mall walking' is a great indoor activity that provides an opportunity for socialization. Offer a community recreation ‘Wall of Fame’ in your gymnasium, providing recognition for facilities that encourage your students' participation by providing easy access, financial support, and/or social support.

The ARC of the United States offers a wonderful publication describing suggestions for Supporting Children and Youth with Disabilities in Integrated Recreation and Leisure Activities. This resource would be a wonderful fact sheet for participants providing community accommodations. It can also be given to families and peers as guidelines for facilitation of participation.

Additionally, check to see if there is a local YMCA, YWCA, or Boys & Girls Club.These are great facilities to develop lifetime fitness skills. Finally, check into your local Special Olympics program.


The Law

The law can be friend or foe. When working with students with disabilities or teaching “special education” it must remember that special education is defined as specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents or guardian, to meet the unique needs of a handicapped child, including classroom instruction, home instruction, instruction in physical education, and instruction in hospitals and institutions. With this in mind, it should be known that APE are required by law to provide special need students with services to fit their required needs. APE use individual education programs (IEP) to design a program so that each student receives the correct services. When making an IEP the APE should know that this is a legal a binding document. The law is helping educators seek out and keep what is just and right for the students. There are many laws that can be sited in helping in any question, including IDEA, and American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975, provide federal money to assist state and local agencies.


The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY) has a wonderful online publication describing transition and its place in the law. Transition Services and the IEP answers the questions:

  • What are transition services?
  • When must school districts begin providing transition services?
  • Who will determine what services are needed?
  • Who will provide transition services?
  • Where will the services be provided?



Alliance for Technology Access. (2000). Computer and web resources for people with disabilities: A guide to exploring today’s assistive technology (3rd ed.). Alameda, CA: Hunter House. [Available from Alliance for Technology Access. See “Organizations,” above.]

Barclay, J., & Cobb, J. (Eds.). (2001). Full life ahead: A workbook and guide to adult life for students and families of students with disabilities (Rev. ed.). Montgomery, AL: Southeast Regional Resource Center. (Available on-line at:

Blalock, G., & Benz, M. (1999). Using community transition teams to improve transition services (Pro-Ed Series on Transition). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

NICHCY Transition Summary Volume 3, Number 1 #TS8, March, 1993

Transition Summary 10 (TS10) 1999, Resources Updated, 2002 Approx. 28 pages when printed.


Lorenzo, S. B. (2006). Knowledge path: children and adolescents with special health care needs Retrieved April 30, 2007, from

Roth, K. (2007). Transition. Retrieved April 30, 2007, from

Transitions. (2007). Retrieved April 13, 2007, from

Unabridged Dictionary. (2006). Transition. Retrieved April 29, 2007, from

This content was created by Kristi Roth.

Doctoral Student in Adapted Physical Education

Texas Woman's University

Updated by Marci Buck, Lauren Cavanaugh, James Riner, Lonnie Teagle, Faith Todd and Mithlesh Vani, 2007.

page last updated 1/3/2017 1:00 PM