Posted in Education and Special Needs

Blog #43~Taking the Next Step after High School

Blog #42~ Taking the Next Step after High School

In a few months, Nick will be walking across the stage to accept his high school diploma.  We are not doing the typical things you do for the senior year.  No need to reserve the tux or limo for prom.  It’s not in the cards to visit any college campuses.  And ten bucks says that the hat and tassel are going Frisbee air born as he crosses the stage at the NIU Convocation Center.  Question is….. What does someone who has Down syndrome and autism resulting in severe cognitive and speech delays plan to do after high school?

Actually, since Nick has not met the academic requirements needed for a diploma, he will receive a “certificate of completion” upon graduation.  He did letter in high school and a look at that GPA.🙂

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Once the “certificate of completion” is put on the shelf, we move into the next phase for Nick.  The program is affiliated with the school district and called STEPS (Supported Training Experiences Post-Secondary).  Under the *IDEA law, a student with special needs may continue with high school or enter a transition program up until they turn 22 years old.  The decision for placement is based on the child’s individual needs.  Students with developmental delays may benefit more by having extra time to work on vocational, social/leisure, self-help skills along with their educational training.  Many students who are higher functioning academically may be able to take college courses and have paid jobs.  Last week we had the opportunity to visit the campus and get a closer look at the STEPS program.  Al attended the first session.  I followed up with Nick since we had to do a team tag with him and went to the second session geared for graduating seniors.  While we waited for the second meeting, Nick and I took a tour of the building. By the way, all but one fire alarm is not covered but I bet it will be soon.🙂  He loved the campus, especially the sensory room.

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So here’s what I learned about the next phase for Nick.  The STEPS program is designed to build a bridge between school life and adult life.  The focus is to identify what services are needed and what linkages need to be made to help your child be successful in adult life.  The questions not to ponder are as follows:

1. What does Nick need to connect to the next level of adult life? 

2. When finished with public school, what type of work will Nick be involved in (paid job, volunteer work?) 

3. Will Nick participate in a vocational and/or life skills day training program or enroll in a degree-seeking program?  

4. Upon completion of public school what arrangements need to be made for independent living (community activities, living arrangements, sports and recreation, transportation, healthcare, financial support, emotional support)?  How do we plan to access them? What supports are needed?  

So the task at hand is to figure out what Nick is good at and also what he likes to do.  From there we work with the team to build a program with this in mind.  The three main areas are educational and vocational training along with building his independent living skills.  Each classroom has a function in the building.  There is a kitchen to work on cooking skills.  One classroom is built around vocational skills (with can crushers, shredders, work bins, and the campus micro-enterprise that includes making note cards and beaded jewelry.) A current STEPS student has her own business making beaded jewelry.  Check it out at!  Another room is for fitness and recreation filled with music, a Wii gaming system and comfy couches.  There is also a sensory room along with a few others that are used for academics and working on self-help skills (like time management, money handling, riding public transportation, etc…) Again, the program is centered on the individual their goals and getting them to that place by the exit date which is the day before their 22nd birthday.  I should add here that some students exit earlier if they reach a place where they are working independently at a paid job.

So Nick will have new jobs next fall and opportunities to do community service along with social functions (clubs, dances, bowling, etc…) It looks much like what he is already doing in high school but more laid back (no school bells, the students manage their own schedules.)  Looks like I will need to get an app for that.

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I felt better after seeing the campus and visiting with the staff.  Amazing how the anxiety level goes down when you can actually get a visual of what lies ahead.  Now all I need to do is answer all those questions above, yikes!  Maybe I’ll go make a cup of tea and mull over it. I’ve got a few weeks until Nick’s IEP meeting. 🙂

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That’s what is in my noggin this week, stay tuned maybe I’ll have some answers by mid-March!


*From Wikipedia: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a United States federal law that governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities. It addresses the educational needs of children with disabilities from birth to age 18 or 21[1][2] in cases that involve 14 specified categories of disability.  In defining the purpose of special education, IDEA 2004 clarifies Congress’ intended outcome for each child with a disability: students must be provided a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that prepares them for further education, employment and independent living.[3]

Under IDEA 2004:

  • Special education and related services should be designed to meet the unique learning needs of eligible children with disabilities, preschool through age 21.
  • Students with disabilities should be prepared for further education, employment, and  independent living.


Teresa is the Author of "A New Course: A Mother's Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism" and the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 29 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Teresa's passion is helping others understand and navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. She is a DS-ASD consultant, advocate, speaker, and author. Follow Nick's world on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism and on Twitter @tjunnerstall. For more information and media links, visit

3 thoughts on “Blog #43~Taking the Next Step after High School

  1. The sharing of Nick’s maturation and education…so helpful for those going through the same things and looking for some guidance on the Next Steps. Your blogs are a touchpoint filled with very useful information. Your vigilance where needed and the overwhelming positive attitude is so refreshing and enlightening! Bravo!

    1. Thank you Jim, I hope the path that sharing the path that Nick has been on will help others and make it easier. I appreciate your kind words and support. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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