The Next Chapter

Transitioning into adulthood with special needs

Watch the video to learn about a family at the beginning of the transition process. If video doesn't play click here.

Watch the video to learn about a family in the middle of the transition process. If video doesn't play click here.

Nick Telleria is like many of the nearly 45,000 other students who attend UCLA. He lives in an apartment near campus. He juggles an internship along with his classes. He frequently attends games since he hopes to become a sports manager or a high school coach one day.

“I mean, I think my whole life I wanted to go to college,” he says. And now, through a program called Pathway at UCLA Extension, he is getting the chance to do so.

At 22, he is older than most first-year students. He is not working toward a degree, but a certificate; he has no major. His goal is in some ways bigger: to build a life of his own.

For Telleria and other young adults with special needs, college has not always been an option. But now, they can choose to go to college, get a job and learn to live on their own when planning for the transition process into adulthood.

One autism expert says this process is similar to what everyone has or will eventually go through in life.

“I think that the transition process for the people on the [autism] spectrum is probably a lot like the transition process for all of us. Which is a mix of excitement, fear, anxiety and honestly just facing the unknown,” said Jonathan Tarbox, M.S. program director in applied behavior analysis at USC.

This process can take years to complete, and parents are encouraged to start thinking about the rest of their child’s life as early as middle school.

But what exactly does this process look like? There are options to go on to higher education, get involved in the community through different organizations, learn career development and vocational training for potential jobs, and different housing options. For people with special needs, what might work for one person might not be the best option for the next. It all depends on personal interests, challenges, strengths and other factors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 6 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. have a developmental disability. The challenge is only getting bigger; the CDC states that the prevalence of parent-reported developmental disabilities has increased by over 17 percent from 1997 to 2008.

Throughout this process, the parents, guardians and caregivers are the ones who have to make the tough decisions for their loved ones. Sometimes they even have to come to the realization that everything they had dreamed of might not necessarily become reality.

“One of the things I say all the time to parents is, I think parents have these ideals about the kid that they think they’re going to get. Then they have to learn to love the kid they do get," said Grenda David, who has a daughter with special needs. "I remember like one time coming into this realization that I was going to fall madly in love with the kid I have and really get to know her.”

Catherine Koetters, another mother, said, “I think it was just really hard especially at the beginning wondering, because at the beginning you keep thinking if I just do enough, [Benjamin will] be typical, you know in air quotes. It was hard always wondering would we turn a corner and we wouldn’t have to worry anymore and that never ended up being the case.”

Because the transition process can be long and difficult, families may need help with planning and evaluating different opportunities available for their loved ones with developmental disabilities. Specifically in California regional centers, nonprofit organizations like Tierra del Sol and even college programs like Pathway at UCLA Extension are just a few options that parents can take advantage of.

Expert Corner

Jonathan Tarbox, M.S. program director in applied behavior analysis at USC. If video doesn't play click here.

Fran Goldfarb, director of family support at USC University Center for Disabilities at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. If video doesn't play click here.

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