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Bipolar and Starting College or Work

The main goal of transition planning is the same for all students, regardless of their abilities or goals: preparation for the world of work. For most students, high school graduation marks a jumping-off point: some go straight to work, some to apprenticeships, some to community college, and some to college. But there’s nothing magical about the number 18. When your child reaches the age of legal majority, he may still need your assistance. How much help he’ll need will depend entirely on the severity of his symptoms, and on how well you have been able to plan for the future.

In this chapter, we’ll look at transition planning: the process of smoothing your teenager’s transition into the adult world through careful educational, vocational, financial, and medical preparation. There are two kinds of transition planning: a formal process that will be part of your child’s IEP and that will concentrate on school and employment issues, and a family process that covers legal, financial, and personal concerns.

Transition Planning as Part of an IEP

Within the special education system, transition planning should begin by age 13 or 14, when your child’s peers are beginning to gain basic work skills and amass credits toward high school graduation. Special education students have a right to also be prepared for graduation, higher education, and work in ways that fit their needs. For many, extra support will be needed.

Your teenager’s transition plan should address high school graduation, higher education, and work skills and opportunities. It may also include preparing the young adult to apply for public assistance, supported housing, and other necessary benefits; helping her learn how to self-manage medical and psychiatric care; and instructing her in life skills such as budgeting, banking, driving, and cooking.

A high school student’s IEP must include an area for transition planning. Because this is an area that has received little emphasis in the past, you may need to keep the IEP team on track. Make sure your child’s transition plan involves all relevant life areas, not just education.

Preparing for Work

Preparing for the world of work means gaining appropriate basic skills, such as typing, filing, driving, filling out forms, writing business letters, using tools, or cooking. These skills may be gained in school-based vocational-technical classes, in classes taken at a community college or vocational school while the student is still in high school, in a union- or employer-sponsored apprenticeship program, via job shadowing arrangements or internships, or on the job. Vocational planning is mandatory for special education students in the US by age 16, and should start much earlier.

Transition-to-work services may include moving into the public vocational rehabilitation system, which trains and places adults with disabilities into jobs. However, in many states the vocational rehabilitation system is severely overloaded, with wait times for placement ranging from three months to as much as three years. Typical opportunities range from sheltered workshop jobs (splitting kindling wood, sorting recyclables, light assembly work) under direct supervision, to supported placement in the community as grocery clerks, office helpers, chip-fabrication plant workers, and the like. Often the person works with a job coach who helps them handle workplace stresses and learn work skills. In some cases, the job coach actually comes to work with the person for awhile.

We had never even heard of vocational rehabilitation when Jakob left the hospital. His therapist at community mental health sent him there. They had a job counselor who worked with him on his first resume, how to dress, and what interviews were like. They placed him in a part-time file clerk job with a hospital near the community college, and they checked up on him regularly for quite awhile. That was perfect: he’s been there two years, and now he’s taking classes part-time also.
–Pam, mother of 20-year-old Jakob (diagnosed bipolar I disorder)

School districts may sponsor their own supported work opportunities for special education students, such as learning how to run an espresso coffee cart or working in a student-run horticultural business. Many schools have vocational programs that give students a chance to have a mentor in their chosen field, possibly including actual work experience with local employers. Not all vocational programs are for low-wage or blue-collar jobs. Vocational options in some urban districts include health and biotechnology careers, computing, and the fine arts.

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Some public and private agencies may also be able to help with job training and placement. These include your state employment department; the Opportunities Industrialization Commission (OIC); the Private Industry Council (PIC); and job placement services operated by Goodwill Industries, St. Vincent dePaul, and similar service organizations for people with disbilities.

All students with disabilities should receive appropriate vocational counseling, including aptitude testing, discussion of their interests and abilities, and information about different employment possibilities. Parents need to ensure that capable students are not shunted into dead-end positions that will leave them financially vulnerable as adults.

Bipolar and Starting College or Work

Sherrie Mcgregor, Ph.D.

APA Reference
Mcgregor, S. (2020). Bipolar and Starting College or Work. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.