Transition planning: Aging out of high school

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Family picture father and sonsPICS consultant Jessica Girard shares what she’s learned as a parent of an adult child with a disability.


When you are the parent of a child with a disability, the transition to adulthood can be an exciting time of growth and change. It can also be a little scary and overwhelming. There are so many different things to think about.

As a parent of an Autistic son, the most important thing I can stress is to plan ahead. It helped so much that we started having conversations about it and looking for resources early. Talk with your child. See what their dreams and goals are. Help them find any needed supports to achieve the life they want. As their parent, we are the child’s best advocate until they are comfortable advocating for themselves.

You will have help from your child’s school if they are on an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP will include a transition plan, which is required by both state and federal law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Formal transition planning begins when a student is in high school.

I found that was just one piece of the puzzle. If your child is in high school, I encourage you to start looking into additional resources and agencies that can support you and your child during this time of transition. Here are some resources to consider.

  • Consider a Transition Program or other transition planning tools that cover topics such as, career and employment, mental health, housing, financial/legal, independent living skills, education, physical health and social well-being.
  • Connect with Vocational Rehabilitation. Vocational Rehabilitation provides support to assist individuals with disabilities to prepare for finding and maintaining a job to match skills and abilities. Eligibility is based upon a person’s disability and whether the disability currently presents obstacles to employment that can be remediated through vocational rehabilitation services.
  • Consider other occupational skills or higher education programs specifically designed for young adults with disabilities. Here are some in Minnesota:
  • Apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if you have not already. Applying for SSI can take several months and involves providing detailed medical and/or other documentation, as well as undergoing one or more evaluations by SSI medical professionals. It is good to plan ahead and initiate the process as part of a young adult’s transition plan.
    • Note: If the individual is a minor and already has SSI, they must reapply at age 18.
    • For more information on SSI, visit Benefits for People with Disabilities ( or call or visit your local Social Security Administration office.
  • Contact your county’s Health and Human Services department to see if your child is eligible for a waiver and services. Apply for Medical Assistance if not already enrolled.
  • Once your child becomes a legal adult at age 18, you can no longer make decisions for them. It’s important to have conversations about decision-making. There are many options to discuss, including Guardianship, Supported Decision-Making, joint bank accounts, ABLE Accounts, Power of Attorney, Representative Payee (for certain government benefits), Supplemental or Special Needs Trusts, Conservatorship, Health Care Directives, and others. There are tools to help you think through what the right choice is for your child in key areas such as medical, educational, financial, vocational and adult services, living arrangements, legal, safety and communication.  
  • Consider establishing a Supplemental or Special Needs Trust and/or an ABLE Account.
    • Assets held in special needs or supplemental needs trusts do not play a role in determining eligibility for benefits and can be used to supplement services that Medicaid and Medicaid Waiver do not cover.
    • ABLE Accounts are tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. With an ABLE plan, you can save for qualified disability expenses without losing your eligibility for certain assistance programs like SSI and Medicaid. Qualified disability expenses include but are not limited to education, food, housing, transportation, health care expenses, legal fees, assistive technology, financial management, employment training and support, personal support services, oversight and monitoring, and funeral and burial expenses.
  • Centers for Independent Living – The Minnesota Association of Centers for Independent Living is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to advocate for a statewide network of independent living services and supports for Minnesotans with disabilities throughout the State.
  • Disability Specific Organizations – Here are several Minnesota-based organizations with information and resources for individuals with identified needs:


Note: This post is for informational purposes only and is not an endorsement for the organizations listed here.