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School Transitions

What you will find in the pages of this section

Transitions (changes) in school settings are part of the educational process for all children. For children with special health care needs (CSHCN) or children with disabilities, this can bring added challenges as a student must adapt to different sets of services, assistants and therapists who work closely with them, settings and expectations. This type of change can affect sensory processing, behavior, communication, and progress for the student.
The School Transitions section is formed around helping students and families plan for challenges and get the most out of their school experience. General school transitions may include:
From Early Intervention to Preschool
There are choices to optimize your child's social and educational progress at this stage. For many children with SHCN or disabilities, preschool plays an important role, as it can give a child needed physical or occupational therapy.
From Preschool to Kindergarten/Elementary School
Many services and aids can be offered at school to help students with special health care needs or disabilities. Formalized plans are vital to make sure these services are in place and are helpful.
To Middle School
In middle school, students may work with an expanding group of peers, adults, counselors, and teachers, and may need to become more and more independent. Student supports are often harder to come by in middle school, and getting individualized care often calls for planning and advocacy. Getting used to the new social settings, expectations, and even physical maturation, can be a challenge for students with disabilities or special health care needs.
From Middle School through High School
Some high school students with special needs will be taught to take more responsibility as they are able, for themselves and their futures. High school students will need help in setting real goals and assuring preparation for life after high school. Families can help the educational transition team by sharing information about the student’s skills, and by working with them and the school to support the best independence and to determine eligibility for needed adult services.
To College
Some young adults will go to college, where they will gain more independence, but college also demands that students rebuild their support networks and take the steps to access the services they need to be successful. College disability centers can help students living on or off campus to get services in class and to help make the campus more accessible. The centers are a good place for a student with disabilities or special needs to go if he or she is feeling stressed and doesn't know where to get help.

Role of the Medical Home in School Transitions

The medical home (see About Medical Home) can support and help students and families throughout school transitions by:
  • Sharing knowledge and recommendations with school staff about the health and educational needs of students
  • Helping families and school staff know student's abilities and set goals that push students and are achievable
  • Working with schools to get needed services or equipment
  • Advocating on the student’s behalf when needed
  • Helping to look at the pros and cons of other approaches to services and accommodations
The medical home may not know about some school services or policies and may not routinely plan for these transitions for their patients. Families can help partner with their medical home by giving information, sharing concerns, and asking for advice and help.
Privacy and protection of sensitive information must be kept in mind when communicating between schools and health care settings. Two sets of laws apply, most often referred to by the name of the legislations: FERPA (Family Educations Rights and Privacy Act) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Privacy Act). Most schools and healthcare providers will need parental consent before they share information with each other. See the Sharing Information About Your Child page for details.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: January 2009; last update/revision: April 2019
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Gina Pola-Money
Reviewer: Tina Persels
Authoring history
2012: first version: Alfred N. Romeo, RN, PhDR
AAuthor; CAContributing Author; SASenior Author; RReviewer