Literature Review: Transition Planning & Services


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 2004 with increased emphasis on transition planning and services. Literature was examined from 2010 to 2014 regarding quality of transition planning and services provided by schools. Results from these studies revealed low compliance with IDEA mandates and professional practices, discrimination among differing culture groups and disability categories, low employment rates and dissatisfaction with schools from parents and individuals with disabilities. Themes emerged to describe parent, teacher and student perceptions of transition planning, services, and employment.  Researchers suggested methods to improve quality of transition planning and services. Schools still have trouble following IDEA 2004 even though its mandates are over 10 years old. Future research is needed focusing on teacher and administrator perspectives to identify the reason for low compliance and discrimination in order to find solutions for the problem.

Key Words: transition planning and services; intellectual and developmental disability


Transition planning is required under the latest iteration of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004). This review of the pertinent literature sought to answer the following questions:

  1. What does research say about compliance of transition planning and services now that IDEA is 12 years old?
  2. What do individuals with disabilities, parents and teachers say about transition planning and services?
  3. What about employment opportunities?
  4. What needs still exist for individuals with disabilities and their families?

Articles were limited to the years of 2010 to 2014 to ensure research data focused on transition planning and services after the latest version of IDEA was enacted.

Quality of Transition Services

Baer, Daviso, Queen and Flexer (2011) examined transition services for students with developmental disabilities in a northeastern state from 2005 through 2008. The results showed that not all students with developmental disabilities were treated the same when it came to transition services. Services varied by setting, gender, ethnicity and disability. The authors reported inadequate alignment between transition goals and the curricula and services of the schools. While transition services existed for the students examined in this study, quality of services were severely lacking. Not all schools had the resources or teacher knowledge to provide adequate services. Student abilities and preferences were either not considered, or not adequately planned with teachers and outside agencies (Baer, Daviso, Queen, & Flexer, 2011).

Landmark and Zhang (2013) looked at individualized education plans (IEPs) in Texas. They examined the extent to which transition planning and services complied with IDEA mandates and best practices, and if ethnicity and disability category effected compliance with IDEA and best practices (Landmark & Zhang, 2013). Like the Baer et al. (2011) study, not all individuals with disabilities were treated equally. A low level of compliance with IDEA 2004 mandates were discovered—especially in regards to Hispanics and those diagnosed with Emotional Disturbance. A significant correlation was found between compliance and use of best practices. Furthermore, a little less than half of all IEPs collected had measureable post-secondary goals and were fully compliant with IDEA 2004 mandates. The authors discovered that the federal law was not being fully enforced and schools faced little to no consequences for not meeting the IDEA mandates almost a decade after the legislation was reauthorized (Landmark & Zhang, 2013).

Parent and Teacher Perspectives

Carter, Brock and Trainor (2014) examined the responses from an assessment survey given to parents and teachers regarding children/students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Communication, leisure activities and interpersonal relationships were identified as strengths for these children/students. Identified weaknesses and needs were in community participation and further education/training (Carter, Brock, & Trainor, 2015). Parents and teachers did not see eye-to-eye on all survey responses. The authors of this study concluded that parents and teachers should have higher expectations of children/students (Carter et al., 2015). This study showed the need for greater understanding of individual strengths and weaknesses, individual needs, and professional development when it comes to transition planning and services. Parents and students need to be equal experts in assessing strengths and weaknesses that guide transition planning (Carter et al., 2015).

Henninger and Taylor (2014) examined family perspectives on successful transition planning and services. Families of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities identified several outcome categories that were not fulfilled by school transition planning and services, namely:

  • having an occupation or functional role in society;
  • moving out of the home, apart from parent or caregiver;
  • relationships with peers;
  • skills required for successful daily functioning;
  • continuing academic or intellectual pursuits;
  • independence with support;
  • constructive relationship with the community;
  • accessibility and transportation;
  • psychological well-being;
  • romantic relationships and/or starting a family; and
  • physical health and safety (Henninger & Taylor, 2014)

This study showed two key points needed for future transition planning and services. First, transition planning needed to be more personalized, with greater consideration for family values and desired outcomes. Second, professionals should treat families and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as peers in transition planning and services (Henninger & Taylor, 2014).

Griffin, McMillan and Hodapp (2010) surveyed family members of transition-aged youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities involved in post-secondary education (PSE) programs in Tennessee. Family members reported a lack of information and guidance for PSE programs. Transition planning to prepare for entrance in PSE programs was deemed inadequate (Griffin, McMillan, & Hodapp, 2010). Papay and Bambara (2011) examined PSE programs on college campuses and found classes and participation were limited to student academic abilities and the strengths of the college. Participation in these programs were limited to school district funding and quality of transition services (Papay & Bambara, 2011). These studies highlighted a common theme of schools keeping families in the dark with the lack of information and funding for available transition planning and services.


Individuals with developmental disabilities need more paid work experiences and more instruction in self-determination and self-advocacy skills (Moon, Simonsen, &Neubert, 2011). Moon, Simonsen and Neubert (2011) found that transition services needed to better utilize employment preferences, needs, interests and skills. Individuals with developmental disabilities tend to have reduced task performance in dynamic strength, hand strength and fine motor skills which can limit unsupported employment opportunities (Ratzon, Schejter, Alon, & Schreuer, 2011). Researchers have indicated the need for families and individuals with developmental disabilities to have greater knowledge in Medicaid and other funding and services from federal, state and local agencies (Moon et al., 2011).

Males with developmental disabilities have shown higher full time work goals, but less college goals than females, indicating greater focus on work rather than meaningful careers (Baer et al., 2011). Baer et al. (2011) also found females to have lower percentage of passed graduation tests and fewer semesters of career and technical education.

Taylor and Seltzer (2011) examined young adults—some with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and some with ASD and intellectual disability (ID). Results of this study showed that just over half of participants were in day programs, and those without intellectual disability were three times more likely not to be involved in either day programs or employment activities (Taylor & Seltzer, 2011). The authors indicated that transition planning and services in schools may be inadequate for individuals with ASD who do not have accompanying ID. Taylor and Seltzer’s (2011) findings were similar to other research results which showed that schools may place low priority in preparing students with developmental disabilities for employment either due to a lack of faith in student abilities, or lack of knowledge and experience in best practices—including family and student perspectives and preferences (Carter et al., 2014; Landmark & Zhang, 2013; Henninger & Taylor, 2014).

Future Research

Lowenthal and Bassett (2012) suggested using a multitiered system of supports—including goal setting, screening data, calculating progress and gaps, progress monitoring, and diagnostic assessments—along with gap analysis to improve transition planning and services. This approach has yet to be fully tested in a way that would yield any conclusive data on it efficacy (Lowenthal & Bassett, 2012). Ratzon, Schejter, Alon and Schreuer (2011) suggested using the Functional Capacity Evaluation to direct training in work and employment tasks in transition services. While both methods might yield excellent results, they do not address the question of why schools are not providing the best possible transition planning and services.

Funding is often claimed as the default answer among professionals for the lack of implementation of the IDEA (2004) mandates. However, future research needs to examine the perceptions and knowledge of teachers and administrators regarding IDEA 2004 mandates and best practices for transition planning and services.  This will help us to develop a better understanding of the problem. Research should also be conducted to examine teacher and administrator perceptions on disability categories, race and ethnicity in developmental disabilities, gender, and employment related skills, and why these perceptions may be causing substandard transition planning and services.


Baer, R., Daviso, A., Queen, R., & Flexer, R. (2011). Disproportionality in transition services: A descriptive study. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 46(2), 172-185.

Carter, E. W., Brock, M. E., & Trainor, A. A. (2014). Transition assessment and planning for youth with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. Journal of Special Education, 47(4), 245-255.

Griffin, M. M., McMillan, E. D., & Hodapp, R. M. (2010). Family perspectives on post-secondary education for students with intellectual disabilities. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 45(3), 339-346.

Henninger, N. A., & Taylor, J. L. (2014). Family perspectives on a successful transition to adulthood for individuals with disabilities. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 52(2), 98-111. doi: 10.1352/1934-9556-52.2.98

Landmark, L. J., & Zhang, D. (2013). Compliance and practices in transition planning: A review of individualized education program documents. Remedial and Special Education, 34(2), 113-125. doi: 10.1177/0741932511431831

Lowenthal, A. B., & Bassett, D. S. (2012). Transition assessment: Using gap analysis to enhance effective transition planning. Intervention in School and Clinic, 48(1), 30-37. doi: 10.1177/1053451212443131

Moon, S., Simonsen, M., & Neubert, D. (2011). Perceptions of supported employment providers: What students with developmental disabilities, families, and educators need to know for transition planning. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 46(1), 94-105.

Papay, C., & Bambara, L. (2011). Postsecondary education for transition-age students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities: A national survey. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 46(1), 78-93.

Ratzon, N., Schejter, T., Alon, E., & Schreuer, N. (2011). Are young adults with special needs ready for the physical work demands? Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32(1), 371-376.

Taylor, J. L., & Seltzer, M. M. (2011). Employment and post-secondary educational activities for young adults with autism spectrum disorders during the transition to adulthood. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(5), 566-574. doi: 10.1007/s10803-010-1070-3

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