The IDEA, Transition Planning, and the Supports Intensity Scale
While the Supports Intensity Scale assessment has been successfully used over the past three years by several hundred state and private agencies providing services for people with intellectual disabilities, an emerging area of use for SIS is in the area of transition planning, perhaps largely due to the lack of norm-referenced tools in the area of transition support.
SIS and IDEA
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) of 2004 defines transition services as a “coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment, continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.” In short, IDEA requires that any student receiving special education services and turning 16, must receive services from the school to help him or her transition into the realm of adulthood and post-secondary education.
Why the Supports Intensity Scale? “The beauty of SIS is that the instrument in its entirety, as it is now, has all the domains required to successfully plan for a post-secondary supports for a student with an intellectual disability,” says Michael Wehmeyer, Professor of Special Education and SIS author. The current adult version of the Supports Intensity Scale has 85 items in the areas of medical, behavioral, and life activities, and is applicable to students ages 16 and above. Life activities cover the areas of home living, community living, life-long learning, employment, health and safety, and social activities, whereas exceptional medical and behavioral support needs contain 15 medical conditions and 13 problem behaviors commonly associated with intellectual disabilities. Further, the Scale contains a supplemental protection and advocacy scale of 8 items. All items on the Scale have to be ranked by frequency, type, and duration of support required such that the tool identifies exactly what supports are required on a daily basis to enable the person live as independently as possible within a community.
Existing tools used for transition planning while many, are in the form of checklists, none of which are norm-referenced, as is the Supports Intensity Scale. The Supports Intensity Scale was normed on 1,308 people with varying degrees of intellectual disability from the ages of 16-72 within the United States and to provinces in Canada. Not only did the authors of SIS consider geography, but they also accounted for other factors, such as the male to female ratio, the cognitive and adaptive functioning level, the percentage of elderly population, and the ethnic origin of the population to ensure that the Scale truly represented the sample of the population it was meant to serve.
Further, the SIS measures support needs directly, and the explicit and direct information provided by the assessment scores takes the guessing away from the transition planning process. Also, existing tools are more useful for developing instructional goals and SIS is unique in that it tells professionals what supports are required to move the student to an adult world. Wehmeyer adds, “As the child gets ready to leave school, the Supports Intensity Scale presents itself as a wonderful tool to help professionals prepare the final planning document in conjunction with adult services as the student transitions into community living.”
The Statement of Performance (SOP)
A relatively new introduction to the IDEA legislation is the Statement of Performance or SOP, usually completed near the end of the final year of a student’s high school education. To quote IDEA, “For a child whose eligibility under special education terminates due to graduation with a regular diploma, or due to exceeding the age of eligibility, the local education agency shall provide the child with a summary of the child’s academic achievement and functional performance, which shall include recommendations on how to assist the child in meeting the child’s post secondary goals.”
Wehmeyer points out, “The SIS is a logical tool to use for SOPs because by its very nature, the Supports Intensity Scale is specifically designed to gauge the support needs and life goals of a person with an intellectual disability, and therefore it can make recommendations on how students should achieve goals in the community.” What would be most helpful for school professionals involved in transition services, is the profile of needed supports that the SIS tool generates at the end of the assessment process. The profile page of the SIS contains a graphical plot of high areas vs. low areas of support needs such that transitional planners can easily and intuitively use this visual display of information for planning and decision-making purposes.
Supports thinking for school systems
Why use the Supports Intensity Scale within the school system? The goal or the very purpose of developing SIS was to create a planning tool like no other, that does not look at deficits or skills of a person, but measures what practical supports a person needs in daily life to achieve all the activities, goals, and aspirations that s/he wants to, to live a life in society. It would only behoove the field to start this positive, supports-oriented thinking much earlier in life than adult services, and that such progressive thinking originate much earlier, while the child is still in the school system.