The success of transitions to postsecondary life is significantly affected by the size of transition networks within and beyond the school system, which includes the range of professional roles and services offered, and the effectiveness of the collaborations within these networks. A sequential mixed method study explains the nature of these collaborative relationships and goes in depth on the many diverse factors and barriers that limit transition programming.
Quality of Transition Partnership Networks
Transition-aged students with disabilities make a huge shift from an entitlement-based high school education system to an eligibility-based system, the difference being having to seek out and secure services on their own. However, families frequently report that information on these services is fragmented and unavailable.1 The absence of connections negatively impact postschool outcomes, such as employment, postsecondary education and community participation.2,3
This article by Jennifer L. Bumble (University of Kansas), Erik W. Carter (Vanderbilt University) and Emily M. Kuntz (the University of Oklahoma) (2022), emphasizes how collaborations between secondary special educators and partners from the school system, service system and community—making up the “transition network”—provides access to a greater array of resources that support the transition process.
Mixing Qualitative and Quantitative Data
Bumble, Carter and Kuntz created a sequential explanatory mixed-method design, using quantitative data from an online survey and qualitative interviews, that examines the vulnerability of current transition partnerships that primarily hinder high-quality transitions. Their research focused on three areas:
- characteristics of the transition networks of secondary special educators
- variables associated with larger transition networks
- educator perspectives on these variables
Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected from 509 study participants in Tennessee, approximately 10% of the state’s 5,095 special educators, from which 25 respondents were selected for the interview.
The data achieved the purpose of the research: “Understanding the composition of transition networks, and how networks might grow and change in response to student caseloads, is an important next step in (a) identifying the ‘key ingredients’ of effective collaboration and (b) developing interventions aimed at increasing collaboration.”
Major Influencers: Network Size and Educator Characteristics
The size of transition networks is influenced by the knowledge, background and experiences of the special educator in establishing partnerships, as well as knowledge of the locale, school roles and responsibilities, and the transition goals of their students.5,6
The research identified three major variables affecting ‘larger’ networks: high school teachers who are supporting students with moderate/severe disabilities in high school, number of years of experience, and higher levels of knowledge in establishing collaborative partnerships.
Participants interpreted that smaller networks were due to (a) larger caseloads of students with mild disabilities, (b) a lack of services specific to students with mild disabilities, and (c) a focus on academic instruction and meeting graduation requirements that left little time for transition planning.
Barriers that limit collaborative practices include multiple responsibilities of educators, limited support and service partners in the community, limited involvement of outside agencies in transition planning, little to no formal training in collaborations, and lack of familiarity with local resources.
Suggested Actions to Boost Network
The social resource theory highlights the benefit of a higher social capital, basically, collaborating with more partners means gaining more access to novel and diverse resources.4 “Educators can leverage the resources housed within their own network and mobilize their networks to connect students and families to critical postschool supports.”
According to Carter and Bumble, these new insights should guide the development of “out-of-the-box” interventions to improve collaborations and increase its scope beyond the school system, such as transition fairs, community engagement events, and practicum placements with local agencies and providers.
Other suggested actions include colleagues and families creating a list of existing services and supports, reaching out to potential mentors with expertise in collaboration, beginning discussions with administrators, and interagency collaboration for federal legislation.
Bumble, J. L., Carter, E. W., & Kuntz, E. M. (2022). Examining the Transition Networks of Secondary Special Educators: An Explanatory Sequential Mixed Methods Study. Remedial and Special Education. https://doi.org/10.1177/07419325211063485
Summary by: Adrian Pasos — Adrian describes himself as a creative and strategic educator. Likewise, he believes that the MARIO Framework embraces the creative and strategic roles of both the educator and the individual learner in the teaching-learning process.
- Gilson, C. B., Bethune, L., Carter, E. W., McMillan, E. (2017). Informing and equipping parents of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 55(5), 347–360. https://doi.org/10.1352/1934-9556-55.5.347
- Prince, A. M. T., Hodge, J., Bridges, W. C., Katsiyannis, A. (2017). Predictors of postschool education/training and employment outcomes for youth with disabilities. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 41(2), 77–87. https://doi.org/10.1177/2165143417698122
- Sanford, C., Newman, L., Wagner, M., Cameto, R., Knokey, A., Shaver, D. (2011). The post-high school outcomes of young adults with disabilities up to 6 years after high school. Key findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (NCSER 2011—3004). U. S. Department of Education. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED523539.pdf
- Lin, N. (2001). Building a network theory of social capital. In Lin, N., Cook, K., Burt, R. S. (Eds.), Social capital: Theory and research (pp. 3–30). Aldine de Gruyter.
- Trach, J. S. (2012). Degree of collaboration for successful transition outcomes. Journal of Rehabilitation, 78(2), 39–48.
Taylor, D. L., Morgan, R. L., Callow-Heusser, C. A. (2016). A survey of vocational rehabilitation counselors and special education teachers on collaboration in transition planning. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 44(2), 163–173. https://doi.org/10.3233/JVR-150788
Social inclusion is a central aspect of feeling like one belongs within a community. Through an ecological approach to gathering information, it may be possible to develop a deeper understanding of an individual’s lived experience, allowing for the creation of more personalized interventions.
Ecological Model for Inclusion
Meys, Hermans, and Maes (2021) pursued this study in an effort to both test whether an ecological model could be utilized to better articulate the complexity of social relations and social inclusion for individuals with disabilities and to suggest a method for informing interventions better tailored to match the experienced reality of the individual. “Persons with a disability express a deep desire for social relations, either in terms of making friends, having a romantic relationship or being socially included.”1
The authors utilized the ecological model to map social inclusion of adults with disabilities in order to better understand the multitude of factors impacting the individual’s interpersonal relationships and community participation. Five levels were included in the ecological mapping: the individual, interpersonal, organizational, community, and socio-political. Inclusion of each level allowed for a more robust understanding of the enabling or disabling qualities of each in an individual’s life.
Also considered was the source of information as individual perceptions of belonging and connectedness can influence any measure of social inclusion. For the purposes of this study, the authors chose to collect data from the individual as well as their network members (family, community members, professionals) in the hopes that the variety of perspectives could provide a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of social inclusion. The authors invited the individuals with disabilities to identify two network members who played a significant role in their lives. An example of how the different voices articulate the experience uniquely can be found in responses to individual level questions around disabling factors. “Every perspective emphasized something else: professionals mentioned more characteristics of socio-emotional functioning, network members more social/interaction skills and persons with a disability gave more insight into their emotional wellbeing (pg 5).”
An additional factor which may have influenced the perceived level of loneliness experienced by the individuals with disabilities is that the study included participants living in independent supported living settings. The potential for social isolation may vary based on the presence of community or the level of segregation inherent to the individual’s living situation.
Interventions Must Be Dynamic
Ultimately, this study informs our understanding of the complexity of social inclusion and suggests that any interventions to improve the quality of social inclusion for individuals must take into account the dynamic interplay of factors from all five levels of the ecological map. The benefits of including different perspectives can be seen in how they were highly complementary while also providing unique information about the enabling and disabling factors that influence social inclusion. “The application of the model functions as a snapshot of a dynamic reality of social inclusion more than as a static model that can be completed at one time point for an individual (pg 8).”
Meys, Hermans, and Maes identify that the interviews of participants were not created to specifically assess the ecological model, which may have resulted in bias. Some of the levels of social inclusion were not directly included in the author’s questioning and so were only addressed so much as they were spontaneously referenced by the individuals or network members during their interviews. Another limitation mentioned is the incomplete understanding of the knowledge held by included network members and how their understanding of the individual’s social inclusion potentially offers a unique perspective. When an individual with a disability isn’t communicating nuanced information about their own social inclusion, a network member’s input may provide this valuable information.
Meys, E., Hermans, K., & Maes, B. (2021). Using an ecological approach to grasp the complexity of social inclusion around a person with a disability. Disability and Health Journal, 14(4), 101152.
Summary by: Erin Madonna—Erin philosophically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s deeply rooted belief that all learners are capable, and she firmly believes in MARIO’s commitment to the use of evidence-based practices drawn from the field of multidisciplinary research.
- Rushbrooke, E., Murray, C. and Townsend, S. (2014), The Experiences of Intimate Relationships by People with Intellectual Disabilities: A Qualitative Study. J Appl Res Intellect Disabil, 27: 531-541. https://doi.org/10.1111/jar.12091
In order to ensure that the therapy a child receives at school is effective, the needs of both the child and the parent must be considered. When providing therapeutic supports, it is crucial that all stakeholders have a shared level of respect and trust and that a foundation of transparent communication is built to ensure the best possible outcome for children with special education needs.
Parental Needs During School-Based Therapy
Murphy and Risser (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine) acknowledge that parental/guardian engagement in therapeutic service for children with disabilities could optimize the delivery of those therapeutic services. Therefore, “this study examines what needs parents identify as important when engaging with school based therapies and how well these needs are being met.”
As services and providers can vary across the U.S., the authors only recruited a small number of participants (initially 47) living in the state of Illinois. Moreover, the authors chose “to recruit parents of children with Individual Education Programs (IEPs), as opposed to parents of children with disabilities, to ensure that the children in question were receiving formal special education services.” All parents completed three questionnaires which provided the data for this study. The questionnaires provided are as follows: Child Demographics Measure, Needs of Parents Questionnaire, and Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire.
Questionnaire Results: Unmet Needs and Key Principles
The data revealed that parents perceived their needs related to their child’s school-based therapy as important but largely unmet. This seems particularly true for families of color. The authors highlight that “while these analyses do not provide insight into the disparities faced by specific racial and ethnic groups, they provide information about potential mechanisms for disparities, and can inform policies and practices to improve equitable access to school-based therapeutic services” as reflected in the literature relating to special education and disabilities services.
Key principles which could be used to support parents are:
- “positive, respectful, and understandable communication;
- commitment to the child and the family;
- equal power in making decisions and implementing services;
- provider competence in implementing and achieving goals;
- mutual trust; and
- mutual respect.”
Furthermore, the data from the study suggests that parents whose children displayed social-emotional and behavioral difficulties felt their needs were not met. “Parents who must manage a child’s challenging behavior, lack of social skills, and social isolation might also need additional support from service providers to engage in therapies and to fully support their child.”
Although the study identifies important aspects that ought to be considered when engaging parents with their children’s therapists, it also has limitations, namely a small sample size and a lack of diversity in the demographics of participants, as this study was limited to wealthy families rather than a range of economic backgrounds. In addition, the participants were already involved and knowledgeable about their child’s needs, and thus further studies would help to investigate representatives of the general population.
Summarized Article: Murphy, A. N., & Risser, H. J. (2022). Perceived parent needs in engaging with therapeutic supports for children with disabilities in school settings: An exploratory study. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 123, 104183.
Summary by: Frankie Garbutt – Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.