Successful Transitions – throughout life


We make many transitions throughout our lives – transition refers to moving from one place, activity or stage of development to another (this can involve emotional, physical and intellectual changes). This resource aims to help prepare the individual and their families for these key transitions, bringing together some of the main tips and issues the individual and their families may want to think about.

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The wishes of the individual should direct any decision making.  The individual and those who care for them are best placed to know what they need, provided they have access to the right information and support.  Key transitions should be planned for and coordinated and families should be informed and supported.

The principles of Enabling Good Lives (EGL) underpin the current system transformation for disability services in New Zealand.  So, what do EGL principles have to do with successful transition?  It can be useful to see how closely a transition pathway, community service or post-school provider align with these principles. These principles should underpin current disability supports and services.

Types of Support

If you want general information on what support is available, check out ‘A Guide for Carers’ (He Aratohu mā ngā Kaitiaki).  The Guide provides practical help for whānau, aiga and carers who assist family members who need help with everyday living because of a health condition, disability or injury.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) provides a wide range of supports from a very young age to the end of school.  If you have concerns about your child’s educational needs, you can contact the Ministry of Education for information and advice by calling 0800 622 222 or contact the closest Learning Support office to you.  They can guide you through the process and talk with you about the various support available for children with learning support needs attending early childhood centres or primary, intermediate or secondary school.

The type and level of support provided at school will depend on whether your child is assessed as having mild, moderate, high or very high support needs.  You will need to work together with all those involved to determine what type of support your family member will receive.  It may be useful to understand the Ongoing Resource Scheme (ORS) and how this works.

It’s important to start this process well before the child starts school.  In the Care Matters ‘Mapping Educational Opportunities’, you can find information on services to support children and young people with learning support needs (pg. 14).

Managing Change

Going through a transition will almost always involve managing some type of change.  This can be a challenging time for families who may be unsure or unclear about the future and the choices and supports available.  How transitions are managed will have a significant impact on the individual and family.

There are three things that can help ease the transition process for families, these are:

  1. Goals – it is important that parents can describe their son or daughter’s strengths and achievements, express individual concerns and articulate the goals and aspirations they hold for their child.
  2. Resources and information – parents need to have access to information, such as who to contact, when to approach the school or provider, what support is available and how to access these resources.
  3. Attitudes – parents need to be able to gauge the attitudes, values and expectations of the school (or provider) and the extent to which they will meet the needs of their child.

(Hanline, 1988; Johnson et al., 1986; Vincent et al., 1980.)

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Be aware that these significant times of change can be stressful for everyone involved.  Having an idea of what might happen, how it will work, or identifying key people to speak with can help lessen the load.  Work through with the teacher, principal, school or provider about what strategies need to be in place to lessen your concerns.

Most young people when asked have similar aspirations to their non-disabled peers; however, they are likely to experience more obstacles during times of transition, particularly when they transition from school to adult life.  Planning early and understanding what some of these challenges will be and putting the right steps in place can make transitions smoother.

General tips for Successful Transitions throughout Life

Below are some general tips to assist families through any key transition:

  • plan-ahead and start early
  • ensure the individual and their family/whānau drive the process
  • have a plan (ie, education, transition or career plan)
  • as the individual gets older – allow them to direct the process and ensure they have the right communication tools in place to do this
  • ensure the focus is on the individual’s strengths and achievements – not just on what is difficult or challenging
  • ensure the process identifies and overcomes barriers to the individual’s learning and support needs
  • having easy to access and clear information on what supports your family member will need to get the results they want (ie, flexible learning environment, building modifications and accessibility, developing suitable routines, use of technology, a quiet space, etc)
  • an environment that is welcoming and fosters a sense of wellbeing, belonging and security
  • an environment that fosters friendships and relationships with others
  • an environment that encourages everyone to work collaboratively and share information
  • an environment that encourages good communication channels between all those involved (ie, school and home)
  • an environment that believes in continuous improvement through reflection and review
  • an environment that fosters inclusion (ie, school and community life)
  • having the right personal and professional support around you and your family
  • having other people you can talk with who understand or share a similar journey
  • knowing that upheaval and change will happen and putting things in place (or having emergency procedures) to help keep everyone safe and well.
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Relationships are key – a successful transition depends on the relationship between all those involved (family, home, school, provider, peers, friends, support staff, etc).  Sometimes relationships break down, especially where one party does not feel equal to another.

Know where to go for help. Always attend meetings with another support person.  For some people articulating what they want in times of stress can be difficult – having someone who knows what you want, can be your sounding board and your advocate, can make this process easier.

Successful transition to primary, intermediate and secondary school 

Schools have a responsibility to provide systems, structures and strategies that welcomes all students so they can achieve their learning potential and have a positive school experience

In reality, students with complex learning needs are not always included in the school community.  As a parent, you may need to educate the school, the teachers and the child’s peers on how this could be supported.  The Learning Support Coordinator (LSC) is the resource person in a school who leads and coordinates support for students with additional learning needs so that students get the most out of their school years.  They have a range of duties, including liaising between families/whānau, teachers, teacher aides and specialist providers, testing students and analysing results, and completing a variety of administrative tasks.  If the school you attend does not have an LSC, contact the Learning Support office in your local area.

Successful Transitions at School

The following table outlines some of the key strategies that enable successful transition at school (and includes links to Enabling Good Lives principles).  A successful transition involves being treated as an equal, valued and contributing member of the class and school and participation in the full range of culturally-valued roles of that setting (MacArthur, Purdue & Ballard, 2003; Rietveld, 2002).

The needs and roles of the family are likely to change as the young person they care for gets older.  Families are often central to proving continuing care, guidance and support during transitions throughout one’s life.




Plan-ahead and start early.

Have a plan that incorporates their aspirations and goals and the steps needed to achieve those goals.

Aligns with EGL principles:

Beginning early


Easy to use

Ordinary life outcomes

Think about their child’s future, understand what strategies and options need to be in place to make the transition successful.

Make an appointment to meet with the Learning Support Coordinator (LSC) or Principal (before the change) to find out about the school, its values and expectations.  Ensure enrolments happen within expected timeframes (ie, some schools have waitlists).

Take a tour of the school and visit some classes before making the change.

Have a planning process and can clearly explain how it works and the options and support available.

The plan should change as the student grows and develops and include clear steps towards life after school from 14 onwards.

The plan should be reviewed regularly and changed as needed.

Help coordinate visits to a new school well before the student starts or changes school.

Have a direct say in what happens to them.

Be able to articulate their point of view and have the right communication tools or strategies in place. As they get older, direct the process, with the support of others (where needed).

Aligns with EGL principles:



Are clear about what they want and what their child’s needs are (when young), and take a leading role where needed.

Provide opportunities for their child to take more control and direct the process (as they get older).

Know when to step back and when to step forward as their young person learns to voice their own opinions.

Listen and are directed by the student and his or her family/whānau.  Have the right communication tools in place to enable this to happen.

Develop good home-school partnerships and relationships.

The school communicates effectively with families about transition matters.

Have input into who works with them.

Aligns with EGL principles:

Relationship building

Mana enhancing

Input into teacher aide appointments.  Build strong relationships with those who provide supports and services for their child/young adult.

Work collaboratively with the student, family/whānau, other professionals and the school the student is moving to.

Have teachers who know them and a school that is welcoming and committed to their welfare.

Aligns with EGL principles:

Relationship building

Mana enhancing

Are well informed about the school, its values, environment, expectations, learning support and transition options (ie, programmes available, structure of the class, attendance, break out space, accessible ramps and toilets, etc).

Use a communication passport, which describes your child’s preferences and communication needs using a strengths-based whole of life approach.  Imagine Better provides a communication passport template.

Take the time to get to know the student and his or her educational needs and goals (past, present and future).

Explain how they will keep family/whānau informed, up-to-date and the reporting format they will use.

Have the right support in place.

Understand the options and supports available.

Aligns with EGL principles:

Easy to understand


Understand what supports and services are available and the process around funding (ie, ORS funding).

Are informed about how the school’s SEG (Special Education Grant) is spent and what the protocol is if more teacher aide hours are required.

Have readily available, easy to understand information about what supports and services are available.  Work closely with a range of different support services.

Have varied learning experiences and opportunities.

Aligns with EGL principles:

Mainstream first

Provide a range of experiences and keep records of interests and achievements (sporting, leisure and the arts) in addition to academic achievements.

Have up-to-date information on the student’s preferred learning style and ensure the environment/learning strategies are tailored to the student’s preferences.

The individual transition plan or ITP for secondary school students is embedded in mainstream education and community settings.

As the student ages, they have increased opportunity to develop and practise life skills through school programmes, at home and in other natural settings.

Enable teachers to have the time to plan (ie, teacher release time).

Feel good about themselves (skills & strengths) and how they contribute (socially valued roles).

Aligns with EGL principles:

Mana Enhancing

Focus on the strengths, gifts, and abilities – the smallest of achievements sometimes require the greatest of celebrations.

Ensure they are included in the life of the school.

See promise rather than deficit – affirming someone’s strengths rather than focusing on what they can’t do has a much more positive effect on the student.

Ensure all students can contribute in meaningful ways to the life of the school.

Using alternative ways to reward students, some primary schools use ‘value awards’ to reward non-academic behaviour that is in line with the school’s values and principles.

Build friendships and relationships with their peers.

Aligns with EGL principles:

Relationship Building

Understand how your child will be supported to be included in the life of the school, including lunch times, community activities or camps, etc.

Link with other families who have been through the process so you can be prepared and supported.  Some schools have parent groups that support one another.

Setting up a buddy system can be useful.  All students regardless of learning support needs may benefit from peer support.

Have adequate peer support and orientation activities, particularly for students entering primary or secondary school for the first time.

Feel safe.

Be aware of who they can raise concerns with, should they need to.

Aligns with EGL principles:



Beginning early

Relationship Building

Address concerns with the school or teacher and work through strategies to alleviate concerns.

Understand what the agreed protocol is for the ‘settling in’ period when a child first attends school (ie, do they stay in the same class or are they moved, etc).

Understand how the school will keep your child safe, welcomed and accepted.

Are aware of and address the concerns of students and their family/whānau and work to find solutions.

Transition between activities and changes to routine 

Not only do we need to plan for those key transitions but also the smaller everyday transitions that happen throughout the school day for the student.  This could be changing from one activity to another, changing teachers and classroom at secondary school or going from school to home and vice versa.

Some of things that can help a student through these day to day transitions include:

  • having activities throughout their day/week they feel good about and can look forward to
  • having strategies in place to deal with changes to routines and workloads (ie, extra demands of school life as the child grows and develops)
  • describe what will happen next, before the new activity or significant change occurs (ie, you can use social stories to describe the change)
  • where possible have consistent activities and routines so the student can predict their day and/or understand when the next activity will happen (ie, through visual cue cards, calendars or story boards)
  • plan ahead – visit the school beforehand, meet the teacher and other students, practise the route to and from school and what happens at drop off and pick up times
  • if the person feels anxious have something or someone that the person is familiar with, this could be a key person or teacher, something they enjoy doing with their hands (tactile) or something they enjoy listening to (music). For some students being able to have a quiet space or to wear noise cancelling headphones may also be beneficial.
  • use music, cue cards, visual scheduling boards, photos to help the student transition from one activity to another
  • model, describe or demonstrate the desired behaviour you want
  • re-direction may work for some students when they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

If your child is showing signs of challenging behaviour, you can get a referral to Explore through your local NASC service.  Explore works with families under the premise that challenging behaviour is a form of communication.  They support the person with the behaviour and their family/whānau and support networks to develop strategies to reduce the impact it has on their lives.

The different plans throughout school 

There are several different plans that are used at school (see table below).  The purpose of these plans is to set goals for your child.  These plans include who is involved, the different teaching strategies, programmes, resources and special equipment that will support your child’s learning and what success will look like for your child.

Plan A, Plan B, Plan C

These do not have to be written plans but could be in a format that makes sense for your child (ie, pictorial, photos, sign language, braille, etc).

Individual Plan (IP)

An Individual Plan (IP) is the name of the plan for your very young child before they start school or kura.  This is typically completed between the family/whānau, Early Childhood Centre (ECE) and Early Intervention Service (EIS) and other professionals if they are involved.

Individual Education Plan (IEP)

An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is the plan that is developed for your child when they are at school or kura.

NB: You can find information on IPs and IEPs here.

Parent to Parent have produced a booklet explaining Individualised Education Plan, IEP Booklet – You are your child’s manager (see link in appendix at the end of this resource).

Individual Transition Plan or Career Plan (ITP or CP)

An Individual Transition Plan (ITP), which is also referred to as a Career Plan (CP), sits alongside your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) by the time they’re 14.  These plans focus on what your child wants to do after they leave school and the steps and support they need to get there.  This can be broad and explore a whole range of career and lifestyle aspirations, and can include employment, education or training, financial independence, community participation, home and living arrangements, independent mobility, peer relationships, sexuality, self-esteem and managing risk.  The student will need information provided in an understandable way so they can make informed decisions.

It’s important the student starts to explore the options available for them as early as possible.  The school can add activities into the classroom programme that will set your son or daughter up for life outside of school.

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All plans should regularly evaluate the outcomes of the planning process and adapt and change as needed.

Often parents get to the end of schooling and transition services are provided during the last year of school – this is too late!

Transition services vary greatly from school to school and region to region.  A good transition service should have a plan for the future, the ability to develop skills, and/or visit places of possible interest (whether it’s for employment, training or accommodation options).  There are some transition services that operate independently outside of the school system and these might be worth looking at.

Helpful tips from other families about Individual Education Plans (IEP):

  • Have an agenda for the IEP meeting.
  • In advance of meetings, make sure you get information about other sources of help, such as support groups, specialist agencies and medical information.
  • You can get attendees to submit reports or ideas prior to the IEP meeting (you typically have one hour for this important meeting).
  • IEPs help the teacher to inform their lesson planning. A few key goals are highlighted, and these will be incorporated into the curriculum level your child is working at.
  • Parents can submit a ‘parent reflection’ document to the IEP team prior to the IEP meeting. List all the subject areas and ask questions and make observations, eg, is there a possibility for more handwriting opportunities, etc.
  • Ensure you have all the specialists mentioned on the IEP document, otherwise the Ministry of Education won’t fund them, eg, OT, Physio, SLT, Psychologist as well as any specialist programmes, eg, Numicon (maths programme), music therapy, etc.
  • Goals from an IEP should be embedded into everyday classroom practice.
  • Never go to an IEP alone.
  • An IEP should explore curriculum subjects – ensuring your child has the right curriculum will help them be more settled.
  • Try to ensure the IEP focuses on a range of competencies and not just about the key competencies to do with behaviour (ie, ‘managing self’ and ‘relating to others’).
  • Some parents discuss the key competencies in relation to the core curriculum subjects, which can be effective. For instance, if a child is doing maths, you may want the child to get the Numicon kit out themselves, etc.
  • An IEP template is available on the TKI website.

Helpful tips from other families about Learning Support Coordinators (LSC): 

  • The LSC often has to do all their learning support work in around 3 hours a week, usually in addition to teaching.
  • It is helpful if the LSC can move some of the more administrative tasks to the school administration team (ie, arranging meetings and writing up minutes). By removing some of these tasks, the LSC can use their time to look at programmes, teacher knowledge, adequate classroom adaptations, initiatives, playground audits, and resources, such as visual aides, etc.
  • The LSC should be reporting to the Board of Trustees on the achievement of students with learning support needs. With the changes to the Education Act, the Board of Trustees are more accountable for the inclusion of students with learning support needs.
  • The LSC can include disability awareness talks at the school (annual talks informing students/staff about disability) but it may be that the Principal needs to get involved in this as the LSC’s hours are limited.
  • The Principal should be informing any new staff about the behaviour profiles of students with learning needs so that all the staff are aware.

Transitioning from School into Adulthood   

Over the years, you have watched your child grow, moving through different milestones to arrive at the end of their secondary schooling.  Transition from school refers to the time your child leaves secondary school and enters the adult community to live or work.  This transition is probably one of the most exciting and most challenging!  What’s next?  What does the future look like?  What support is available?  Who will provide that support?  And so on…

The student isn’t the only one transitioning, you are too.  You are entering a new phase of life, growing older, confronting your own future as your child prepares to launch into adulthood.  At this stage transition should be designed to help the student move from school to a quality adult life.  The school must make sure the student has all the information they need to make decisions about post-school options such as training, work placements and higher education.

Successful transition for students at this stage might include:

  • having a job or valued role in the community
  • continuing with higher education
  • moving away from home
  • having the skills for successful daily living (ie, money management, cooking, paying bills, social communication and interaction, etc)
  • increasing their autonomy and independence
  • having constructive and reciprocal relationships with the community and various community groups or activities
  • the ability to use public transport
  • having friendships
  • having romantic relationships and/or starting a family
  • having good physical health & wellbeing.

When things don’t work out, this can be a very stressful time for parents, especially when the future fails to live up to their own or their son or daughter’s expectations.  There will always be bumps in the road, having strategies to deal with this will be important.  Keeping things moving forward takes time and energy; it’s impossible to do it on your own, find those key people who can be your support as you support others.  Those key people maybe there for a particular task, a season or as a key support throughout life.

Teacher Aide as a Job Coach

You can be creative with the resources you have available; the Teacher Aide can be used as a Job Coach.  If the Teacher Aide is used in this way, ensure they have the skills to be able to provide this support.  For example, they can work with your son or daughter to learn new tasks, develop visual schedules for work tasks, social skills, work ethics for the workplace and ways to develop independence.

Life Skills and Work-Based Learning Programmes

Most Life Skills Programmes start at the age of 16; check out if the school your son or daughter will be attending has a Life Skills Programme and what they can offer?  Programmes are tailored to the individual and their IEP goals or career goals.  Such topics can include money handling, meal preparation, cooking, managing household activities, travelling independently and so forth.  If the school you attend does not have a Life Skills Programme, you may be able to transfer to another programme in your area.

Gateway is a work-based learning programme, which gives opportunities for senior students (year 11 – 13) to explore the career pathway of their choice, and at the same time work towards gaining their NCEA qualifications.

STAR stands for Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource.  It is additional operational grant funding by the government for all schools with year 11- 13 students.  As with the other components of operational grant funding, schools have discretion about how they use STAR funding.  However, it is expected that schools use it to provide students with the range of learning experiences needed to support their engagement and achievement and successful transition to further study and employment.

Ministry of Development (MSD) funded Transition Service

Another option in a student’s final year of school (for ORS funded students) is a MSD funded Transition Service.  These services focus on the uninterrupted movement of students in their last year of school into post-school education, employment and/or community services and activities.  The purpose of this service is to ensure there is a coordinated plan in place to assist the student to achieve his or her post-school goals.

The criteria for students applying for the MSD funded Transition Programme are:

  • must have current High or Very High Needs ORS funding
  • must be in their last year of school or tertiary education
  • must be aged between 16 – 21 years of age.

MSD funded Transition Programme details:

  • services are for one year whilst the student remains in school
  • enrolments begin in the last half of the school year, before the student’s final year.

Funding for Students with High ORS verification post-schooling

High ORS funding for students ceases when they transition from school.  Funding for these young people is provided through a number of MSD contracts depending upon post-school pathways.

Funding for Students with Very High ORS verification post-schooling

Students who have Very High ORS verification may qualify for individual funding from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) when they leave school through a contracted service.  MSD will contact you directly about this.

The following provides a guide as to when students can leave school and possible next steps:

Age:  14 years

Start thinking about transition from school to adult life. The transition from school process starts when the student turns 14 at the latest.  It is part of a specific planning process that aims to maximise academic achievement as well as developing a range of practical life skills and confidence building in and outside of the classroom.

The student and family/whānau are offered information and support that opens the door to a wide range of inclusive community-based options.

Partnerships are developed between the school and various community supports.

Age:  16 years

Can leave school from age 16 years.

Continues to build on academic and practical life skills being developed.  The school should be able to support activities, such as work experience, volunteer work, paid employment, using public transport, use of specialist technology (used in higher education) or attending another course one or two days per week, etc.

The student may want to speak with a careers advisor about post-school options.

Age:  18 years

High ORS funded students can leave school at the end of year or after their 18th birthday. All students should have the opportunity to be involved in the wider local community, in a range of activities.  

Continues focus on academic and practical life skills.

Age:  21 years

Very High ORS funded students can leave school at end of the year or after their 21st birthday.

Continues focus on academic and practical life skills.

Transition service

Transition contract in last year of school (see MSD funded Transition service below).

Preparing to Leave School:   

Hopefully by the time your son or daughter leaves school they will have a clear idea of what they want to do – be it employment, tertiary education or meaningful participation in community activities.

Refer to the MOE’s ‘Preparing to Leave School’ for more information about the support available for moving into tertiary education, employment, and living in the community.

Arrows going in different directions

The Care Matters website also has a resource called Adulthood which is part of a four-part series that includes information on accommodation options (refer to link in appendix).

Check out these Regional Transition Booklets which provide information for students looking at post-school options. Even if you do not live in one of these areas, they are useful to look at to see what happens in other regions.

The NZDSN (New Zealand Disability Support Network) is a member network of disability support services and providers and you can search their database for services by region and disability.

You may also want to contact Workbridge or a Supported Employment Service for employment support.  Workbridge administers the Job Support funding and the Training Support funding.  Your young person may also be eligible for programmes such as the Mainstream Employment Programme (funded by MSD).  The Mainstream Employment Programme provides a package of subsidies, training, and other support to help people with significant disabilities get work and to enable them to gain sustainable employment.

Click here for information on further Education and Training Options.  Employment New Zealand provides information about the types of support that disabled people can use to find and keep jobs.

Thinking Ahead – Planning for the Future   

Planning for the future can take place at any age but has a specific focus as one gets older.  A plan may be created by the person themselves or by family/whānau who want to know that their son or daughter will be well supported as they themselves grow older.

This will involve multiple conversations and discussion on a number of topics, including:

  • future living arrangements
  • retirement
  • changes to supports and services
  • friends/support networks
  • financial arrangements
  • ongoing health needs and professional support and involvement
  • safeguards
  • bereavement
  • end of life planning, and
  • funeral arrangements, etc.

Planning is more than having a will in place, as it involves thinking about and anticipating the future needs of the individual, what they will be doing and who they will be living with.  This type of planning often requires the involvement of significant others, including siblings, other family members, family friends, and professionals such a financial adviser and lawyer.

Talking about and being well prepared for retirement, old age and changing living arrangements or health needs can make these changes less stressful when they happen.  It’s important the individual and their support network/s start to have these conversations early enough so that a plan is in place long before the major life change, event or transition occurs.  This can help alleviate some of the anxiety people may feel by having open conversations, discussing options and voicing concerns.

Planning helps to put things in place to ensure that the person has the best possible future, even in the event of the death of a parent.

Check out the Care Matters resource on Getting Older.  This resources includes information on topics such as planning for the future, ill-health and aging, aged care services, grief and loss, and financial and legal information.

Useful websites and booklets from the Ministry of Education (MoE):

  • Information from MoE for students with learning support needs.
  • Starting School booklet for parents and caregivers of children with special education needs who are about to start primary school.
  • Preparing to Leave School contains information about the roles and responsibilities of people who can help with transition planning.
  • The National Transition Guidelines provides best practice for specialist educators, schools and parents.

Care Matters resources, including:

 Other useful websites and resources:

  • Regional Transition Booklets – Northland, Waikato and Wellington (these booklets are useful to look through for ideas even if you live outside of these regions).
  • TKI (Te Kete Ipurangi): Guide to Transitions – managing times of change.
  • Thinking Ahead: a planning guide for families (UK). This guide provides ideas for how different people can help parents and contribute to thinking and planning for the future.
  • Council of disabled children (UK) has a big list of links and resources for people aged 14+ on transition planning and what good processes should look like (includes information on young people and palliative care, HIV and complex needs, etc).
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