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SEPTA workshop highlights transition process

Parents and Guardians Learn How to Prepare for Their Children’s Next Steps in Life

Although adulthood may be years away, parents of children with special needs must start preparations for the transition from school-based to adult services, The Arc Westchester’s transition services director said at a recent SWBOCES SEPTA workshop.

Carin Horowitz, who runs the Transition Services Program, quoted a colleague of hers who said families should always “start with the end in mind.” That is, they need to consider what their children are interested in, what talents they have and whether they will live at home, in an apartment or in assisted living.

Planning should begin when children are 12, Ms. Horowitz said. That’s when families and school districts should start to assess students’ strengths, interests, goals, etc. Most youngsters don’t know at that age what they want to do with their lives, but the questions will be revisited each year.

When young adults turn 15, their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) incorporate goals for employment, education and independent living. 

“They will change every year based on the child’s interest, what they get exposed to in school – different programming,” said Ms. Horowitz, who spoke to parents and guardians who attended either a morning or evening workshop on Jan. 17. “You might have new skills, new abilities and new interests.”

For school districts, knowing what students’ plans are for the future will guide them in tailoring educational experiences, training and skills development until they graduate high school or turn 21.

Ms. Horowitz gave parents a handout from the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center that included in-school predictors of post-school success, such as career awareness, inclusion in general education, paid employment/work experience, social skills and vocational education.

“Students who learned these things in school, had experience with these things in school, had better outcomes when they got into the adult world,” she said.

Services for children decrease after they transition to adult services, Ms. Horowitz advised. “So thinking about how you can set things up for success after school, when services might not be as plentiful, is important,” she said.

Tappan Hill School Principal Phyllis Rizzi, a member of the SEPTA executive board, said SWBOCES staff and SEPTA members make sure that families know that they have to go through the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) to access services. It’s a complicated system, and it’s important to take it one step at a time, she said.

Ms. Horowitz and The Arc Westchester advise parents and guardians on how to apply for services through OPWDD, and they make referrals to community programs. They also provide a host of programs and services, such as recreation, residential care, skills-building programs and day habilitation opportunities.

Westchester residents can get help from a county staff person who will help them submit the paperwork to OPWDD, she said. It takes an average of about six weeks for OPWDD to approve an application or send it to a higher level review.

After OPWDD approves eligibility, families can get state Family Support Services funding for children in middle and high school, Ms. Horowitz said. These funds can pay for in-home respite care and in-home family training as well as reimburse for other services.

After obtaining eligibility, families need to obtain a Medicaid eligibility waiver. The document waives certain requirements under statute to allow adults with developmental disabilities to access an array of home and community-based services and maintain as much independence as possible.

Ms. Horowitz recommended that families get assistance with the waiver applications. The Arc Westchester provides initial assistance. She noted, however, that OPWDD recently changed the waiver application system. Existing providers of services to people with disabilities, including The Arc, created new Care Coordination Organizations/Health Homes that will coordinate all the services a person receives for a developmental disability, as well as health, wellness and mental-health services, through one individualized Life Plan. 

Eventually, people with developmental disabilities should be able to go right to a Care Coordination Organization/Health Home to receive help applying for a waiver. Meanwhile, agencies like The Arc still provide assistance.

Ms. Horowitz also talked about the option of self-directed care under the Medicaid waiver. It allows a family more choice and flexibility about choosing the mix of supports and services, organizations and staff that best suit the individual. It takes into account that every person is unique, and having the power to design their own programs benefits them and their families, she said.

“It’s wonderful for people who don’t fit into the traditional box,” she said.