The Lifespan Transitions Center: Building Bridges of Support From School-Age Through Adulthood
“The transition from school-age through adult life is complex and there are typically multiple systems and providers involved, which can be difficult to navigate. A lot of what we do at the Lifespan Transitions Center is support the planning of the transition process in ways that bring the right people together.”
Under the leadership of Chris Filler, the Lifespan Transitions Center at OCALI provides resources, training, technical assistance, and consultation to support the successful transition of students with autism and multiple disabilities throughout their school careers and into their adult lives.
OCALI plays an important role in helping to bridge important conversations with various organizations and agencies across the state. “Bringing people to the table for these critical conversations has been a gift,” said Chris. “By thinking about the transition process across systems and various disabilities, we’re going to have a bigger impact. And, ultimately, that’s what we want—to have the greatest impact with as many people as possible.”
Chris notes that many education, medical, and social service systems were intentionally developed to specialize in certain areas, each having their own set of boundaries and requirements. “In recent years, there has been a shift in looking at our systems and a recognition of the need to align them in a more workable way to reduce duplication and gaps. Partnerships make a difference and our Center has been able to exist because of partnerships.”
In addition to facilitating trainings and technical assistance, the Center creates tools and resources that include evidence-based predictors and practices to help navigate the transition process. Learn more.
Indicators of Success
Research suggests that one of the biggest indicators of successful adult outcomes is employment. Since 2013, the Center has partnered with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities and other Employment First Task Force agencies. Employment First is a national initiative that presumes all people with disabilities can and should have the opportunity to engage in meaningful community employment.
“One of the things that I am most proud of when it comes to the work of this Center is the work we’re doing with Employment First and the transition framework that we helped to create. Grounded in three core principles— agency-neutral, outcome-focused, and person-centered—the framework creates common processes that can be used across agencies. Agencies use this framework to examine their practices and procedures when working with transition youth.”
“When I hear people describe the way we need to work together—agency-neutral, outcome-focused, and person-centered—I know that we are impacting a shift in the way people are thinking. It gets me so excited,” said Chris.
The partnership between the Center and Employment First has also helped to address some of the barriers associated with transition-age youth, including starting the planning process too late. People often struggle to get their information and resources together. Chris says that “most people start thinking about the transition process around age 14, but it should be much earlier.”
Another factor that contributes to an adult’s success is having community-based experiences, such as an after school job, shopping for groceries, writing a resume, or volunteering for a local organization. Students who have real-world experiences within their communities are more likely to have greater independence, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.
When asked what a successful transition for people with autism and multiple disabilities looks like, Chris explains that “the process is unique and personalized for each person.”
“We often talk about looking forward and planning backwards. Ideally, we want people to see the transition process as just the beginning of the next phase,” Chris said. “When they have that mindset, that’s when you know you’ve done a good job.”
The Center believes that transition begins as soon as a child is born, continues as the child becomes an adolescent, and evolves as the youth enters into early adult life. In reality, there is no endpoint to transition as individuals will continuously navigate multiple stages of adulthood.
Inspiring change is part of OCALI’s mission and each Center contributes to that mission in its own way. Chris explains that the Lifespan Transitions Center is inspiring change in ways that she never imagined.
“We had been working with a team in the Cleveland area to develop structures with evidence-based practices around transition youth. Toward the end of the project, one veteran teacher approached us and said that she was going to change the way she did everything—including rewriting her students’ Individual Education Plans (IEPs) using the new structure and evidence-based practices we had shared with her. When you see your work inspire someone in that way, it’s a goosebump moment.”
Making an Impact
In June, Chris was honored with the 2018 Professional Excellence Award by Milestones Autism Resources. Winners were determined by a special committee comprised of parents, self-advocates, and professionals and will be recognized for their outstanding achievements, and contributions for the autism community.