Any transition is a developmental stage that involves significant cultural milestones (Stewart et al., 2001). Some examples of significant transitions are: the transition to elementary school, the transition to high school, the transition to postsecondary education, gaining more autonomy from parents, transition to the workforce, transition to independent living, and the transition from institutional setting (e.g. a hospital) to community life.
Research has shown that children and youth with disabilities have complex journeys, as they often have to navigate new environments with limited guidance, feel pressure to be independent, and lack the resources and supports that make it difficult to prepare for transitions. Research on transition has shown that social support is a critical success factor for any transition. Social support includes family, of course, but also peers, community members and service providers.
Some of the key concepts that need to be studied and considered by anyone working with children and youth with chronic disabilities who are transitioning to a new stage of life includes: the emphasis on a person's lifecourse and the network of relationships, changing roles and expectations over time; building a person's capacity to participate in meaningful activities in their community; helping a person "get ready" for the next stage in life by giving them the "tools" they need; being "interdependent" versus "independent" because person and environment are transactional. These concepts recognized that life is a journey with many transitions.
Historically, therapeutic focus has been oriented on transitioning a person toward adult services and individual independence, but our research advocates a change in direction (Stewart et al., 2001). A lifecourse approach to transition places the emphasis on the natural, developmental transitions that all people experience in life. Furthermore with this approach, there is less focus on individual skills of independence (for example, with dressing or cooking), and more on the term 'interdependence' among many people. This concept recognizes that everyone relies on supports at different stages and transitions in their life.
We have learned a great deal in the past decade or so about some transitions (for example, the transition to adulthood for youth with disabilities) but we still have much more to learn as we adopt a lifecourse approach to services and research in this area. For a synthesis of the current literature on the transition to adulthood for youth with disabilities, please click here to view the article that is posted on the International Encyclopedia of Rehabilitation.