Be Prepared for Adulthood
How do you feel when you hear the phrase “transition to adulthood?” Are you excited? Are you scared? Are you confused? Are you overwhelmed? You likely have moments where you experience all these emotions. Everyone is nervous when they make life transitions, but when you have a disability or mental health issue, there are extra reasons to be concerned. But, facing those concerns head on is better than avoiding them. If you don’t make plans, you can’t fail, but you also can’t succeed.
There are many different aspects to transitioning from school services to adult services. You can start by thinking about goals you want to achieve in the future. What do you want to do after high school? Do you want to go to college or a trade school? What do you want to do as a career? How will you stay healthy to have the life you want? How will you pay for what you need and want? How and where will you live?
When someone turns 18 years old, they transition to adult health care and services. In adult care, the individual is in charge of their own care, with parents/caregivers involved only with consent from the individual. You become legally responsible for making decisions for yourself. This includes decisions about your health, education, finances, living arrangement, employment, and leisure activities. It is a lot to consider, and it feels even more overwhelming when you have a disability or mental health condition that restricts your options. If you need accommodations in school, work, or daily living, it takes careful planning to get those in place. The transition process can feel overwhelming, but if you take small steps more often it doesn’t feel so big.
I loved school and thrived in that structured environment. Positive feedback from teachers and peers motivated me to do well. As a senior in high school, I felt pressured to declare my future career. I liked to read so I told people I wanted to be a librarian, without doing any research. College coursework was even more demanding than high school homework, so I was focused on getting through school. As a senior in college, I interned at my local library and job shadowed at the college library technical services department and discovered library science wasn’t for me. I graduated from college with no career plans.
Take my experience as a cautionary tale. Don’t allow yourself to avoid thinking about the future. My transition plan was to go to college. I wish my transition plan had started early with career exploration. In Kentucky, the Office for Children with Special Health Care Needs has developed a transition checklist to be given to patients and filled out every year. The goal of the checklist is to make sure youth start thinking about transition to adulthood as early as age 12. The checklist has age-appropriate developmental milestone questions about transition topics. It covers health, education, independent living, employment goals, and more. I would have benefitted from this type of ongoing assistance with planning my future.
Don’t pretend like getting through school is all that matters. Don’t wait to start exploring what career you might want. Don’t let fear keep you from exploring future possibilities. Don’t focus on the daily details of your life to the exclusion of the bigger picture. Don’t hide from what’s hard. Start transition planning early. Learn to face hard things head on. Practice making short-term goals and achieving them. These things will make the transition from school to adult services smoother and more enjoyable.