NOTE: The following blog post is VERY LONG and is the first part of a research project I am developing and conducting as part of the graduation requirements to earn my MSOT (Master of Science in Occupational Therapy) degree. If you are interested in attending graduate school for occupational therapy, you will likely be required to complete a similar project. Although specific project requirements vary, this post is an example of the work occupational therapy students do to develop skills in the area of critical thinking, research, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the application of evidence to practice.
Background: As part of a small group conducting research in the area of post-secondary transition planning for students with intellectual disabilities, I am responsible for creating a research question, conducting a literature review, developing a research project, implementing this project, and then documenting the results in written and presentation formats. I am working with a faculty advisor who provides support and guidance as I complete this project over the next year, but the work you see here (and possibly in future posts) is mainly the result of my own efforts. This post is the “literature review” component of my assignment.
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
In the United States, vocational, employment, academic, social, and functional outcomes for young people with disabilities are disappointing, and have even been described as “bleak” in the literature (M. Kardos & White, 2005). For example, in the years 1987-2003, only 1/3 of high school graduates with disabilities pursued post-secondary education compared to 40% of typically developing students. Additionally, the transition to community-based services in which the individual is responsible for requesting services from school-based services in which the school personnel are responsible for providing services can be very difficult for these students and their families, which may contribute to negative post-secondary outcomes (Barnard-Brak, Schmidt, Wei, Hodges, & Robinson, 2013). Quality transition coordination services are crucial in order to improve the lives of high school students with disabilities as they leave the familiar world of school-based services (including occupational therapy services) and enter the world of adult and community-based services.
Further, it is important to address this issue because the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 (and 1997, in later years) mandates that students who are receiving special education services receive transition planning as well. States and local education agencies (LEA) are responsible for providing these services, but a thorough review of the literature indicates that there are few federal guidelines regarding the provision, monitoring, and regulation of the mandated transition planning services. For this and other reasons that will be explained later, transition planning in many places across the United States is in a state of disarray, and students are not receiving the education, skills, and training they need to live life to its fullest as capable, successful, independent adults.
Providing transition planning for students with special needs is crucial not only because it is federally mandated, but also because it is important to provide all students with the skills they will need to find meaningful careers, interact successfully with their peers, participate in local communities, and live their lives in a way that is pleasing and accommodates them, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
As providers who frequently work in school settings with students who are receiving special education services, occupational therapists are well-equipped to help students transition successfully out of school and into the workforce, community, post-secondary education, or other settings. As Kardos and White (2006) wrote, “Occupational therapists have the professional skills and training to expand the scope of school-based practice into the area of transition planning, particularly in conducting evaluations in the areas of daily living skills, work and leisure, and community participation” (p. 174). However, the majority of school-based OTs are not providing these services, for a variety of reasons including lack of training, lack of professional advocacy, and lack of research on effective interventions and practices.
In addition to being an issue of professional knowledge and practice, the lack of occupational therapists involved in transition planning may also be considered an issue of occupational justice, insofar as the students who are receiving inadequate transition services or no services at all are being deprived of their legal right to these services as well as their opportunities for future success in the areas of academics, leisure, social interaction, independent living, and community participation.