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Though transition coordinators are critical in improving post-high school outcomes for students with disabilities, little is known about their roles and many schools are falling short of their transition responsibilities.

Ambiguity Equals Frustration

There is much ambiguity around transition counselors’ roles within institutions, which leads to stakeholders being prone to frustration towards an inefficient system. Seven district-level transition coordinators working in public schools in Massachusetts were surveyed. They were asked to conceptualize their role and reflect upon the factors that shape their effectiveness. The responsibilities of transition coordinators varied, with some having much overlap between counseling and administrative roles. The commitment of key stakeholders–such as special educators, guidance counselors, and importantly, administrators–can be vital in helping improve outcomes of transition planning.

Clear Roles May Improve Student Outcomes

Clarity in roles and responsibilities among transition coordinators, alongside continuous support and communication with key stakeholders, may be beneficial in improving post-high school outcomes for students with disabilities. Further research and discussion must be facilitated to reach a consensus about such roles among transition coordinators.

Notable Quotes:

“A consistent mantra among transition coordinators was that secondary transition is a collaborative effort that involves everyone.”

“As one participant explained, ‘The philosophy of transition comes from everyone. It comes from general ed teachers. It comes from special ed teachers, guidance counselors, your coach, whoever. Like everyone has a role in transition.’”

Personal Take

As a neurodiverse individual who is currently exploring post-high school life, it would have been great if there was a transition coordinator at my school. However, I think this role is pretty western-centric.


Emmy Thamakaison

Summarized Article:

Lillis, J. L., & Kutcher, E. L. (2021). Defining Themselves: Transition Coordinators’ Conceptions of Their Roles in Schools. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 21651434211010687.

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Key Takeaway
The success of transitions to postsecondary life is significantly affected by the size of transition networks within and beyond the school system, which includes the range of professional roles and services offered, and the effectiveness of the collaborations within these networks. A sequential mixed method study explains the nature of these collaborative relationships and goes in depth on the many diverse factors and barriers that limit transition programming. Ingredient of High-Quality Transition Programming for Youth with Disabilities
Adrian Pasos

Quality of Transition Partnership Networks

Transition-aged students with disabilities make a huge shift from an entitlement-based high school education system to an eligibility-based system, the difference being having to seek out and secure services on their own. However, families frequently report that information on these services is fragmented and unavailable.1 The absence of connections negatively impact postschool outcomes, such as employment, postsecondary education and community participation.2,3

This article by Jennifer L. Bumble (University of Kansas), Erik W. Carter (Vanderbilt University) and Emily M. Kuntz (the University of Oklahoma) (2022), emphasizes how collaborations between secondary special educators and partners from the school system, service system and community—making up the “transition network”—provides access to a greater array of resources that support the transition process. 

Mixing Qualitative and Quantitative Data

Bumble, Carter and Kuntz created a sequential explanatory mixed-method design, using quantitative data from an online survey and qualitative interviews, that examines the vulnerability of current transition partnerships that primarily hinder high-quality transitions. Their research focused on three areas: 

  1. characteristics of the transition networks of secondary special educators
  2. variables associated with larger transition networks
  3. educator perspectives on these variables

Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected from 509 study participants in Tennessee, approximately 10% of the state’s 5,095 special educators, from which 25 respondents were selected for the interview. 

The data achieved the purpose of the research: “Understanding the composition of transition networks, and how networks might grow and change in response to student caseloads, is an important next step in (a) identifying the ‘key ingredients’ of effective collaboration and (b) developing interventions aimed at increasing collaboration.”

Major Influencers: Network Size and Educator Characteristics

The size of transition networks is influenced by the knowledge, background and experiences of the special educator in establishing partnerships, as well as knowledge of the locale, school roles and responsibilities, and the transition goals of their students.5,6

The research identified three major variables affecting ‘larger’ networks: high school teachers who are supporting students with moderate/severe disabilities in high school, number of years of experience, and higher levels of knowledge in establishing collaborative partnerships. 

Participants interpreted that smaller networks were due to (a) larger caseloads of students with mild disabilities, (b) a lack of services specific to students with mild disabilities, and (c) a focus on academic instruction and meeting graduation requirements that left little time for transition planning.

Barriers that limit collaborative practices include multiple responsibilities of educators, limited support and service partners in the community, limited involvement of outside agencies in transition planning, little to no formal training in collaborations, and lack of familiarity with local resources.

Suggested Actions to Boost Network

The social resource theory highlights the benefit of a higher social capital, basically, collaborating with more partners means gaining more access to novel and diverse resources.4 “Educators can leverage the resources housed within their own network and mobilize their networks to connect students and families to critical postschool supports.”

According to Carter and Bumble, these new insights should guide the development of “out-of-the-box” interventions to improve collaborations and increase its scope beyond the school system, such as transition fairs, community engagement events, and practicum placements with local agencies and providers. 

Other suggested actions include colleagues and families creating a list of existing services and supports, reaching out to potential mentors with expertise in collaboration, beginning discussions with administrators, and interagency collaboration for federal legislation.

Summarized Article:

Bumble, J. L., Carter, E. W., & Kuntz, E. M. (2022). Examining the Transition Networks of Secondary Special Educators: An Explanatory Sequential Mixed Methods Study. Remedial and Special Education.

Summary by: Adrian Pasos — Adrian describes himself as a creative and strategic educator. Likewise, he believes that the MARIO Framework embraces the creative and strategic roles of both the educator and the individual learner in the teaching-learning process.

Additional References:

  1. Gilson, C. B., Bethune, L., Carter, E. W., McMillan, E. (2017). Informing and equipping parents of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 55(5), 347–360.
  2. Prince, A. M. T., Hodge, J., Bridges, W. C., Katsiyannis, A. (2017). Predictors of postschool education/training and employment outcomes for youth with disabilities. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 41(2), 77–87.
  3. Sanford, C., Newman, L., Wagner, M., Cameto, R., Knokey, A., Shaver, D. (2011). The post-high school outcomes of young adults with disabilities up to 6 years after high school. Key findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (NCSER 2011—3004). U. S. Department of Education.
  4. Lin, N. (2001). Building a network theory of social capital. In Lin, N., Cook, K., Burt, R. S. (Eds.), Social capital: Theory and research (pp. 3–30). Aldine de Gruyter.
  5. Trach, J. S. (2012). Degree of collaboration for successful transition outcomes. Journal of Rehabilitation, 78(2), 39–48.

Taylor, D. L., Morgan, R. L., Callow-Heusser, C. A. (2016). A survey of vocational rehabilitation counselors and special education teachers on collaboration in transition planning. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 44(2), 163–173.

Key Takeaway:

In an experiment conducted over two semesters (Fall 2019 and Winter 2020), research indicated how time management training increases self-control and time spent on activities, leading to more academic success. Not surprisingly, however, during the pandemic when time structures dissolved and learning went online, there was an increase in leisure time. —Matt Piercy

The study aimed to answer the question:

Might time management training (TMT) have an effect on student behavior when students transition from in-person to online learning? 

Authors of the article, Tabvuma et al., state that “overall, our results indicate that it is not enough to have technology available and optimized for online learning.  Students need to receive training and develop skills that will enable them to learn and work effectively in an online environment to overcome the challenges of learning in a less structured environment.”

Here are the major takeaways from the article:

  1. The pandemic resulted in a great deal of change for students as established schedules and routines all but dissolved. 
  2. Social and physical distancing, lockdowns, and reduced or eliminated work commitments resulted in much more unscheduled time. With time constraints and the norms associated with campus learning removed, students had more locus of control on how they might manage their time.  In effect, a new “game” was being played. 
  3. “Leisure media (e.g., YouTube, Netflix) provide unscheduled on-demand entertainment experiences that people can access at any time of their choosing.” This often leads to overuse. The authors argue that time management strategies can improve self-control in this area. 
  4. “A large literature has found that time management and time management training have a positive impact on individual wellbeing and performance, including students.”1

However, numerous limitations were noted. 

For example, the control of gathering data specific to the impact of time management training (TMT) was interrupted as a result of COVID-19. Data was self-reported by students and further, students were all first-year university students in an introductory business course. Only three sessions of time management training were implemented and divided over the course of one semester.

Summarized Article:

Tabvuma, V., Carter-Rogers, K., Brophy, T., Smith, S. M., & Sutherland, S. (2021). Transitioning from in person to online learning during a pandemic: an experimental study of the impact of time management training. Higher Education Research & Development, 1-17.

Summary by: Matt Piercy—Matt appreciates how at the heart of the MARIO Framework is a passion to develop relationships and a desire to empower students to uncover their purpose while building upon strengths  Further, Matt is inspired by how the MARIO team supports educators and is quickly and nobly becoming a collaborative force in pursuit of educational equity. 

Additional References:  

  1. Aeon, B., & Aguinis, H. (2017). It’s about time: New perspectives and insights on time management. Academy of Management Perspectives, 31(4), 309–330. 

Key Takeaway: 

As most education programs focus on short-run learning outcomes, special education (SE) helps prepare students for adult life goals. A study on the long-run benefits of SE examines sudden declines in educational attainment after a debated policy change in Texas that pressured school districts to reduce SE caseloads. Over 10 years of exposure to the controversial policy, drawbacks, largely experienced by less-advantaged youth, prove how SE programs significantly alter students’ learning environments, influence adult life success, and suggest later life labor market outcomes. —Adrian Pasos

Special Education Spending

The lack of evidence on the long-run trajectories of SE programs and placements, along with inconsistencies in its selection criteria, made it difficult to measure the effectiveness of SE spending. This, however, did not inhibit the growing rate of SE participants in the U.S., currently at an annual cost of $40 billion.1 Despite the ambiguity of its benefits, SE increased by 40 percent between 1975 and 2018. 

In 2005, the state of Texas introduced a major policy change that restricted school districts to an 8.5 percent ‘cap’ in SE enrollments. Although it was eventually reversed for violating federal disability law,2 it was responsible for a massive statewide decline in educational attainment rates. 

Special Education Access and Removal Effects

Research conducted by Ballis and Heath (2021) exploited this unique policy change to extract statistical data that produced evidence of the long-run success of SE programs. “Credibly estimating the long-run impacts of SE programs is difficult due to data limitations and the empirical challenges. The few studies that have examined SE placement have largely focused on short-run outcomes.”

On the other hand, their research design identifies the direct impacts of SE programs by using strategies that analyze differences in SE access and removal in varying exposures to the policy. Results show the negative effects of SE removal in a high-impact sample group—students whose disabilities are less severe. This explains the sharp decline in educational attainment, as evidenced by a 51.9% drop in high school completion and a 37.9% drop in college enrollment, which are strong predictors of later life labor market outcomes. 

Data also presented advantages of SE placements on general education (GE), showing how its removal can alter the way teachers allocate resources, thereby also negatively affecting GE students. A comparative study supports that additional educational resources to students with mild disabilities offer returns that are significantly larger than reducing classroom sizes or increasing school spending, but similar to highly effective interventions.3,4,5

Adulthood Outcomes

To establish its long standing impact, Ballis and Heath leveraged administrative data that followed public school students into adulthood, linking student-level school records to post-secondary schooling.  As explained by Ballis and Heath, “our results suggest large returns to investing in specialized educational support when overall improvements in school quality are not possible.” 

While Ballis and Heath have shown “robust evidence on the impacts of SE placement on educational attainment decisions, the limited time after the policy does not yet allow us to fully follow students into the labor market. Understanding the longer-run labor market effects will be the focus of future research.”

Summarized Article:

Ballis, B. & Heath, K. (2021). The Long-Run Impacts of Special Education. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 13(4): 72-111.

Summary by: Adrian Pasos — Adrian believes that the MARIO Framework embraces the individual learner, who plays a dynamic role in the process of teaching and learning, as well as the educator who can turn the unfamiliar into creative learning opportunities.

Academic researchers Katelyn Heath and Briana Ballis participated in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). 2015. “The Condition of Education at a Glance.” NCES.
  2. US Department of Education. 2018. “U.S. Department of Education Issues Findings in Texas Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Monitoring.” US Department of Education Press Release, January 11.
  3. Dynarski, Susan, Joshua Hyman, and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach. 2013. “Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 32 (4): 692–717.
  4. Jackson, C. Kirabo, Rucker C. Johnson, and Claudia Persico. 2015. “The Effects of School Spending on Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 131 (1): 157–218.
  5. Levin, Henry M., Clive Belfield, Peter Muennig, and Cecilia Rouse. 2007. “The Public Returns to Public Educational Investments in African-American Males.” Economics of Education Review 26 (6): 699–708.

Key Takeaway

How can we make certain that the technological tools available to educators are effective in engaging and ensuring learning for students who have learning difficulties? Love and Ewoldt suggest having a guide to help educators evaluate the digital resources that help our neurodiverse learners be successful during online learning. —Nika Espinosa

A Guide to Gauge Online Learning Tools

As we continue to navigate online learning as a response not only to education evolving but the worldwide pandemic as well, it is imperative that we scrutinize the different platforms we use to ensure that all our students are engaged, supported, and learning appropriate content. “However, information related to how students with learning disabilities (LDs) access online learning environments has proven difficult to ascertain.”1 There are so many platforms out there; how do we gauge the most effective ones? As our learners are neurodiverse, it is highly unlikely that special educators will find a standardized platform that will suit our learners. Love and Ewoldt instead propose, through the lens of universal design for learning, a guide to gauge these platforms for our students.

“In supporting students with LDs in asynchronous environments, the process for evaluating, implementing, and supplementing asynchronous instructional materials should be systematic in nature.” The authors, in their article, proposed the following guidelines:

Alignment with Standards 

Schools and educators work in environments where academic standards are expected to be achieved. It is important that the digital resources being utilized allow for opportunities, if not certainty, for standards to be met. As special educators, we need to make those clear connections between individualized educational goals and academic standards. However, the authors encourage going beyond just alignment. Once learning targets are determined, educators then need to determine if the instructional digital resources can support our neurodiverse learners.

Addressing Student Needs 

Love & Ewoldt suggest that educators consider the following steps:

  • ensure that an organizer is present for the task;
  • activate background knowledge and make material relevant by connecting to previous learning;
  • clearly establish learning targets;
  • help students in organizing themselves;
  • ensure explicit instruction that includes academic language, key concepts, and opportunities that allow for student application;2 
  • and provide opportunities for students to give and receive feedback.

These points can evaluate whether the instructional materials will be able to reach learning targets and, at the same time, ensure that our student accommodations or scaffolds are met. 

Course Navigation 

Materials used need to be scrutinized on how well they can support our learners’ navigation of both platform and content, presentation of academic language, and how they address student accommodations and modifications. “Significant evidence supports the idea that when information is presented clearly through the material given to students with LDs via digital interfaces, gains in new knowledge and skills can be made in a variety of academic areas.”3 Multimedia used should also present information in such a way that it doesn’t distract the learner from the learning engagement. 


“Finally, special educators should ensure that adequate measures of student progress are available within the tools they are evaluating.” This can look like feedback on how students are responding to the technological resources, but at the same time, it should also include independent tasks that show learning. Special educators can scrutinize whether these resources are able to reflect student learning. 

There are many fantastic digital platforms available to educators to support and enhance learning. “However, given the rapidly evolving nature of research into the technology necessary for delivering online instruction, it is important that guidance be provided to practitioners for establishing and implementing effective online learning environments.” The guidelines proposed by Love and & Ewoldt can help us ensure that our neurodiverse learners will be supported and are learning along with their peers. 

Summarized Article:

Love, M. L., & Ewoldt, K. B. (2021). Implementing Asynchronous Instructional Materials for Students With Learning Disabilities. Intervention in School and Clinic, 105345122110018.

Summary by: Nika Espinosa – Nika believes that personalized learning is at the heart of special education and strives to collaborate with educators in providing a holistic, personalized approach to supporting all learners through the MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

  1. Basham, J. D., Carter, R. A., Rice, M. F., & Ortiz, K. (2016). Emerging state policy in online special education. Journal of Special Education Leadership, 29(2), 70–78.
  2. Hughes, C. A., Morris, J. R., Therrien, W. J., & Benson, S. K. (2017). Explicit instruction: Historical and contemporary contexts. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 32(3), 140–148.
  3. Kennedy, M. J., Thomas, C. N., Meyer, J. P., Alves, K. D., & Lloyd, J. W. (2014). Using evidence-based multimedia to improve vocabulary performance of adolescents with LD: A UDL approach. Learning Disability Quarterly, 37(2), 71–86.

Key Takeaway

Ayar et al. reveal relevant factors, including socioeconomic status, prenatal smoking, and screen time duration, associated with strengths and difficulties among children with specific learning disabilities. These results provide key takeaways for parents, educational institutions, and medical practitioners in adjusting their approach to raising and treating this group of children. —Emmy Thamakaison

Ayar et al. share their cross-sectional survey investigating the prevalence of certain social, emotional, and behavioural characteristics among children with specific learning disabilities (SLDs) and factors associated with such characteristics. Among a variety of surveys, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was administered, which evaluated “Conduct Problems (CP),” “Hyperactivity and Inattention (HI),” “Emotional Symptoms (ES),” “Peer Problems (PP),” and “Prosocial Behaviours (PsB).” Associated factors investigated include family socioeconomic status, early exposure to smoking, breastfeeding duration, early hospitalization, and childhood screen use. 

Environmental factors

Compared to the wealthier subgroup, individuals from a low socioeconomic background were at a higher risk of displaying CP and externalizing problems (EP), which is the sum of HI and PsB. This is supported by existing literature, as low-income families are associated with “unemployment, broken families, mentally unhealthy parents, and the use of improper education methods.”1, 2, 3

Biological factors

Breastfeeding has been thought to play a major role in cognitive development during early childhood.4,5 The current study found that children who breastfed for more than 12 months were less likely to experience PP, compared to children who breastfed for less than 12 months. These results are consistent with that of Belfort et al. and Bernard et al., which suggest that language development, motor function, and cognitive abilities improve with increased breastfeeding duration.6,7 Another explanation for this study’s findings is that “breastfeeding [can] have a protective role in preventing children from maltreatment by their mothers,” which translates into rewarding relationships later in life.8

Furthermore, maternal prenatal smoking is significantly associated with ES, CP, EP, IP, PsB, and Total Difficulties (TD; The sum of all difficulties scores). The effects of prenatal exposure to toxins through smoking have been well documented, and the results of this study are well supported. Maternal prenatal smoking has an overall negative impact on cognitive development, children’s learning outcomes, and increasing neurological brain abnormalities.9, 10, 11 

Early childhood hospitalization and screen use

The way children with SLDs were raised beyond infancy also plays a role in influencing their characteristics. Children with SLD with hospitalization histories were associated with a higher risk of HI and EP. In explaining this increased risk of SLD-ADHD comorbidity in children with early hospitalization, the authors suggest that “the hyperactivity of children may lead to more hospital visits” or “frequent hospital visits may increase hyperactivity by creating a negative experience.”

Further, abnormal PsB scores were also associated with a decreased age of first screen contact, and CP and EP problems increased with an increased daily preschool screen exposure of ≥4 hours. Ayar et al. suggest that inappropriate parenting styles (ie. low parental acceptance of their children, parental neglect, or overprotective parenting) are associated with increased risk of screen time, and can lead to abnormal prosocial behaviours. Additionally, since hyperactivity-inattention was not found to be associated with “current screen contact time,” authors conclude that “screen contact time was more important for SLD in the preschool period of the study.” Early childhood is a critical period for brain development and screen time exposure may do more harm than good during those years, as it may cause “insomnia, mood swings, and problems at school.”12

Ayar et al.’s results provide thoughtful takeaways both on multiple levels: 

  • Practitioners should become well aware of the behavioural risks associated with different familial, biological, and environmental factors among children with SLD and may need to provide special support for such groups. The authors state that “combining medical treatment with psychosocial support will increase treatment success” for these children. 
  • On a systematic level, schools and educational institutions should become well aware of such risks as well and provide systematic support as needed. 
  • To-be or current parents are reminded that prenatal smoking and early screen time exposure may have negative effects on their child’s development and may need to adjust their parenting behaviours accordingly. 

Summarized Article:

Ayar, G., Yalçın, S. S., Tanıdır Artan, Ö., Güneş, H. T., & Çöp, E. (2021). Strengths and difficulties in children with specific learning disabilities. Child: Care, Health and Development, 48(1).

Summary by: Emmy Thamakaison—Emmy is an undergraduate student at Stanford University and an enthusiastic advocate of MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

  1. Lindström, M., Hansen, K., & Rosvall, M. (2012). Economic stress in childhood and adulthood, and self-rated health: a population based study concerning risk accumulation, critical period and social mobility. BMC Public Health, 12(1).
  2. Morrissey, K., & Kinderman, P. (2020). The impact of childhood socioeconomic status on depression and anxiety in adult life: Testing the accumulation, critical period and social mobility hypotheses. SSM – Population Health, 11, 100576.
  3. Vogel, L. (2019). Poor mental health, poverty threaten Canadian kids: report. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 191(38), E1065–E1066.
  4. Horta, B. L., Loret de Mola, C., & Victora, C. G. (2015). Breastfeeding and intelligence: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatrica, 104, 14–19.
  5. Victora, C. G., Bahl, R., Barros, A. J. D., França, G. V. A., Horton, S., Krasevec, J., Murch, S., Sankar, M. J., Walker, N., & Rollins, N. C. (2016). Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. The Lancet, 387(10017), 475–490.
  6. Belfort, M. B., Rifas-Shiman, S. L., Kleinman, K. P., Guthrie, L. B., Bellinger, D. C., Taveras, E. M., Gillman, M. W., & Oken, E. (2013). Infant Feeding and Childhood Cognition at Ages 3 and 7 Years. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(9), 836.
  7. Bernard, J. Y., De Agostini, M., Forhan, A., Alfaiate, T., Bonet, M., Champion, V., Kaminski, M., de Lauzon-Guillain, B., Charles, M.-A., & Heude, B. (2013). Breastfeeding duration and cognitive development at 2 and 3 years of age in the EDEN mother-child cohort. The Journal of Pediatrics, 163(1), 36-42.e1.
  8. Taghıyev, A. (2020). Protective role of breastfeeding status, chronic health problems and temperament of children in maltreatment by mothers. Türk Pediatri Arşivi.
  9. Anthopolos, R., Edwards, S. E., & Miranda, M. L. (2013). Effects of Maternal Prenatal Smoking and Birth Outcomes Extending into the Normal Range on Academic Performance in Fourth Grade in North Carolina, USA. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 27(6), 564–574.
  10. Cho, K., Frijters, J. C., Zhang, H., Miller, L. L., & Gruen, J. R. (2013). Prenatal Exposure to Nicotine and Impaired Reading Performance. The Journal of Pediatrics, 162(4), 713-718.e2.
  11. Biederman, J., Petty, C. R., Bhide, P. G., Woodworth, K. Y., & Faraone, S. (2011). Does exposure to maternal smoking during pregnancy affect the clinical features of ADHD? Results from a controlled study. The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, 13(1), 60–64.
  12. Domingues-Montanari, S. (2017). Clinical and psychological effects of excessive screen time on children. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 53(4), 333–338.

Key Takeaway

For people with severe intellectual disabilities, transitioning to adult services marks a significant point in their lives. It is during these times and beyond that their involvement in big decisions, such as planning transitions, and the relationships between these people and family members have never been more important. This study explores the transition of six individuals with severe intellectual disabilities; the findings highlight how professionals can also form a close relationship with these individuals. — Michael Ho

Understanding Transitions

“While the need to better understand transitions to adult services for people with severe intellectual disabilities has been acknowledged, studies that examine transitions mostly include participants with mild-to-moderate intellectual disabilities”1 This aligns with the need to better understand the unique situation of individuals with severe intellectual disabilities transitioning to adult services.

Jacobs, Quayle, Wilkinson, and Macmahon (2021) investigated the transition experiences of six adults with severe intellectual disabilities, including transitions from school to adult services and moving out of the family home. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between families and professionals, to understand how they work together and what influenced their actions during transitions.

The ethics of care perspective is the backbone of this study that centers around relationships. “Ethics of care is a philosophical theory that emphasises the importance of interpersonal relationships and care to understand human flourishing.”2 It stresses that vulnerability and dependence are central to human life.

The participants’ immediate environments, as well as how far transitions were shaped by organizational practices and political and cultural spheres, were explored. Each case referred to the transition experience of one of the six participants. Information was collected through different data sources and through the perspectives of different stakeholders. In all six transition journeys, the participant was involved in planning their transitions. 


The study found that the participants were involved in decisions only within their immediate setting and not across ecological levels that included policy-making and service provision. This adds to the evidence that “people with intellectual disability and their families are largely excluded from decision-making processes on wider levels.”3 

There was evidence that participants were valued based on the relationships they had with support in their immediate environment. However, barriers included experiences of scarce resources, inflexible organizational structures, and a gap between the ideals of policies and actual possibilities within practice.

Another key finding highlights that while families, particularly mothers, play a central role in the lives of the child, relationships between people with severe intellectual disabilities and professionals cannot be overlooked.

This study highlights the understanding of transitions as multidimensional, which emphasizes that transitions never just affect one person and that they are influenced by the wider socio-economic context. This relational perspective shows that not only does the person with intellectual disabilities have needs, but their carers and other stakeholders involved also have needs and required support. 


There were limitations to this study. First, all six participants were able to access services and involve their families to advocate on their behalf. This may not reflect the reality of other people with severe intellectual disabilities. In addition, the input and responses were from adults who knew and spent time with the participants. Therefore, the researchers cannot claim to represent the views and opinions of the participants themselves. 

Summarized Article:

Jacobs, P., Quayle, E., Wilkinson, H., & Macmahon, K. (2021). Relationships matter! Utilising ethics of care to understand transitions in the lives of adults with severe intellectual disabilities . British Journal of Learning Disabilities.

Summary by: Michael Ho — Michael supports the MARIO Framework because it empowers learners to take full control of their personalized learning journey, ensuring an impactful and meaningful experience.

Additional References:

  1. Foley, K.-R., Dyke, P., Girdler, S., Bourke, J., & Leonard, H. (2012). Young adults with intellectual disability transitioning from school to post-school: A literature review framed within the ICF. Disability and Rehabilitation, 34, 1747–1764.
  2. Tronto, J. C. (1993). Moral boundaries: A political argument for an ethic of care. London: Psychology Press.
  3. Löve, L., Traustadóttir, R., Quinn, G., & Rice, J. (2017). The inclusion of the lived experience of disability in policymaking. Laws, 6, 33.

 Researcher Paula Jacobs participated in the final version of this summary. 

Key Takeaway: Teachers sometimes treat their students differently from one another, focusing more on the low-performing students. As a result, feedback is given to these students in a manner that directs and controls their learning, rather than encouraging higher-level thinking. —Shekufeh Monadjem

Eddie Denessen (University of Leiden), Annelies Keller (University of Leiden), Linda Van Den Bergh (Fontys University), and Paul Van Den Broek (University of Leiden) formed a hypothesis stating that there is a difference in how teachers treat their students and that teachers offer more frequent and challenging interactions to those students who have high academic achievements and a higher socioeconomic status. 

Educational policies are calling for more individualized and differentiated ways of teaching in order “to promote the learning opportunities of each individual student. To reach this goal, teaching should be tailored to individual students’ needs.”1 But to what extent are the student-teacher interactions free from bias? According to the authors, “with differential treatment of students, teachers may exacerbate or reduce achievement differences in their classroom.” This behavior may result in teachers “treating their high-expectation students more favorably.”

A study conducted in eight fourth-grade classrooms in the Netherlands indicated that there was indeed a difference in teacher-student interaction, but contrary to expectation, teachers “interact more frequently with their low-performing and low-expectation students.”

The study also examined the feedback that was given to the students in the class. “Feedback can be the most powerful tool to support students’ learning, but effects depend on the quality of the feedback interactions.” Effective feedback needs to be related to a goal and directly applicable to the learning habits and thought processes of the student. Feedback can be given either in a directive or facilitative way. When giving directive feedback, “teachers tell students how to process information . . . carry out a task . . . or they ask questions for which they expect a certain answer.” This method can be successfully used when a new concept is taught. However, with the use of facilitative feedback, “teachers prompt students to think by asking them open-ended questions or by giving them hints that facilitate learning,”2 and therefore help students to construct their knowledge. This type of feedback is used to foster higher-level thinking and learning. 

Ultimately, it was observed by the authors that “teachers showed a rather directive style of teaching, more targeted at weaker students in their classrooms.” The low-performing “students were given more turns and more feedback.” It was also noted that the teachers provided these students with directive feedback, indicating that teachers took more control over these students’ learning.

Summarized Article:

Denessen, E., Keller, A., Van Den Bergh, L., and Van Den Broek, P. (2020), Do Teachers Treat Their Students Differently? An Observational Study on Teacher-Student Interactions as a Function of Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement. Hindawi Education Research International, Vol 2020.

Summary by: Shekufeh – Shekufeh believes that the MARIO Framework builds relationships that enable students to view the world in a positive light as well as empowering them to create plans that ultimately lead to their success.

Additional References:

  1. S. A. Parsons, M. Vaughn, R. Q. Scales et al., (2017). “Teachers’ instructional adaptations: a research synthesis,” Review of Educational Research, vol. 88, no. 2, pp. 205–242.
  2. J. M. Faber, C. A. W. Glas, and A. J. Visscher, (2018). “Differentiated instruction in a data-based decision-making context,” School Effectiveness and School Improvement, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 43–63. 

Key Takeaway: Students often set goals based on teacher expectations. In this study, the implementation of the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) led to students setting a lack of academic or social goals and an abundance of home living goals; this may suggest lower adult expectations for students with significant support needs. Therefore, it is crucial for students to consider their own interests when setting goals and for teachers to set high expectations during the process. Teachers need to be aware that the SDLMI is designed to promote student agency as the students are the ones who set and go after goals for their future. —Michael Ho

Burke, Shogren, and Carlson (2021) examined and analyzed the types of goals transition-age students with intellectual disabilities set as part of a statewide implementation of the SDLMI. The purpose of this study was to analyze the goals set by students using the SDLMI in a specific context to inform future research and practice. Goal content was emphasized, as opposed to goal attainment. Additionally, the skills associated with self-determination during the entire period of the study were identified. 

The authors investigated the following four research questions: 

  1. What types of goals did transition-age students with intellectual disability set when supported by their teachers to use the SDLMI to enhance postschool outcomes?
  2. How many students had goals across areas and/ or multiple goals in the same area (e.g., academics, vocational education and employment, postsecondary education, home living, social and relationships)?
  3. Within goal areas, what subtopics were represented (e.g., academic goal subtopics may include content mastery, class participation and engagement, study skills, etc.)?
  4. How many goals that incorporated skills associated with self-determination were taught using the SDLMI (e.g., choice making, decision-making, problem-solving, etc.)?

Here are the major takeaways from the article:

  • Apart from being an evidence-based practice for transition-age students with disabilities, “the SDLMI is a model of instruction in which trained facilitators (e.g., teachers) teach students self-regulated problem-solving skills that can be applied to setting and going after goals. The SDLMI comprises three distinct phases—Phase 1: Set a goal, Phase 2: Take action, Phase 3: Adjust goal or plan.”1,2
  • The current literature mentions that SDLMI provides evidence that the model impacts goal attainment. However, there is limited research on how SDLMI supports the content of the goals students set and how goal content may affect goal attainment during transition planning.
  • The current study analyzed 1,546 goals set by 667 transition-age students with intellectual disabilities in Rhode Island. The sample was collected over a period of three years
  • In response to the first research question, primary goal categories, from most identified to least identified, were as follows: home living, vocational education and employment, academics, leisure and recreation, communication, transportation, social and relationships, finances, community access, and postsecondary education. 
  • In response to the second research question, “almost half of the students (n = 315; 47.2%) had goals across multiple categories within a given school year, and 164 total students (24.6%) had repeated goals (i.e., the same goal more than once) within a school year.” This suggests that teachers need to be aware that there is a significant amount of students that may have a diverse range of goals to pursue beyond their secondary education.
  • In response to the third research question, the top subcategories that students identified with were ‘Expressing wants and needs and making requests,’ ‘General speech and language skills,’ ‘Email,’ ‘Driving,’ ‘Taking the bus,’ ‘General transportation knowledge,’ ‘Activities with others,’ ‘Meeting new people,’ ‘Engaging in conversation with others,’ ‘Identifying and counting currency,’ ‘Writing checks or balancing a checkbook,’ and ‘Making purchases.’ Although the subcategories were diverse, there is a lack of identified focus on academic and social goals.
  • In response to the fourth research question, skills associated with self-determination, that were set from either the student’s perspective or the teacher’s perspective, were choice making (5.5%), self-advocacy (4.4%), planning (3.8%), and decision-making (3.4%) were the most common.
  • “Teachers shift toward the role of a supporter rather than a director of goal setting, and the wording of goals is a reflection of buy-in to this process.” The SDLMI needs to fulfill its purpose of emphasizing student agency and student-driven goals.
  • There is a higher number of identified student goals pertaining to home living skills instead of academic or social skills. This suggests that the teachers’ low expectations of students in the area of academic and social skills may be impacting what and how students set goals. Hence, the need for high expectations from educators supporting students in the goal-setting process for academic and social skills cannot be stressed enough.
  • The study has a few limitations, such that student data cannot be linked across three years of the study; therefore, the data cannot be analyzed for growth and change. Furthermore, student goals used in this study may be a reflection of the teacher’s interpretation or adjustments. The teachers may have contributed to student goals from the teachers’ perspectives among students who needed intensive support to communicate their goals.

Summarized Article:

Burke, K. M., Shogren, K. A., & Carlson, S. (2021). Examining Types of Goals Set by Transition-Age Students With Intellectual Disability. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 44(3), 135–147. 

Summary by: Michael Ho—Michael supports the MARIO Framework because it empowers learners to take full control of their personalized learning journey, ensuring an impactful and meaningful experience.

Additional References:

  1. Shogren, K. A., Raley, S. K., Burke, K. M., & Wehmeyer, M. L. (2018). The Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction: Teacher’s guide. Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities.
  1. Wehmeyer, M. L., Palmer, S. B., Agran, M., Mithaug, D. E., & Martin, J. E. (2000). Promoting causal agency: The Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction. Exceptional Children, 66(4), 439–453.

Key Takeaway: High expectations play a vital role in developing future success in students. For learners, frequent educational and vocational discussions with friends, family, and teachers during adolescence can be incredibly important in fostering their aspirations and transforming them into reality. —Emmy Thamakaison

Lynette Vernon (Edith Cowan University) and Catherine Drane (Curtin University) share their retrospective, cross-sectional study examining the association between student characteristics (ie. socio-economic status (SES), gender) alongside discussions with influential figures (ie. family members, friends, teachers) and expectations to attend university, receive vocational/technical education, or go into full-time employment after secondary school.

SES’s contributions to the development of future aspirations have long been debated, in particular, the suggested relationship between lower SES and lower educational and vocational aspirations. Vernon and Drane present their arguments against this as their results revealed that “career and educational aspirations for students, predominantly from low SES background were high” but found that often “the missing element is the knowledge of how to make these aspirations concrete and obtainable.”1 

  • Compared to students with higher SES, those with lower SES tend to engage more frequently in Technical and Further Education (TAFE) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) discussions and less frequently in university discussions. 
  • Students discuss their aspirations with their parents and peers more than their teachers and counsellors. Therefore, it is vital for these high-impact influencers to “have the necessary up-to-date knowledge and skills to provide the relevant information around educational opportunities.” However, parents of students of lower SES may lack the prerequisite knowledge as they may not have experience with university and/or TAFE/VET pathways. Thus, informative parental support and discussions with multiple influencers may be beneficial to maintaining high aspirations. 

Apart from SES, other factors such as gender, academic year level, and first-in-family (to attend university) status are considered “important predictors” for students’ vocational and higher education expectations. 

  • University discussions affected female students more significantly in terms of their expectations to receive higher education.
  • Those with first-in-family statuses engaged in discussions about university more frequently than those whose family members have attended university, indicating “their capabilities of resilience, motivation, and tenacity to explore university pathways.” However, first-in-family status was not associated with TAFE/VET expectations.
  • Vernon and Drane found that year level (grade level) indirectly contributed to the pathways between discussions on university, TAFE-VET, or full-time employment expectations.

Regardless of individual characteristics, frequent discussions about students’ futures allows the maintenance of their aspirations and sets them on the path to reaching their potential. 

  • As one of the main confidantes for a student, parents are encouraged to “provide the reality context for their children around their educational desires” in the discussions. 
  • Teachers remain largely untapped for valuable aspirational discussions. Prioritizing career education in a school setting and promoting teachers as a “positive, knowledgeable, and accessible resource” can therefore go a long way in “empowering [students] to pursue their desired education and career pathways”. 

Ultimately, this research encourages policy-makers, teachers, and influencers to recognize the importance of discussions around educational and vocational pathways. Adolescence is a critical transitional period as students decide what they will pursue beyond secondary school. While individual factors influence future expectations differently, increasing the frequency of quality discussions with influential figures can “provide the opportunity for all students to practice and develop their capacity to aspire and meet their career [and educational] expectations.”

Summarized Article:

Vernon, L., & Drane, C. F. (2021). Influencers: the importance of discussions with parents, teachers and friends to support vocational and university pathways. International Journal of Training Research, 1–19.

Summary by: Emmy Thamakaison — Emmy is a recent high school graduate attending Stanford University and is an enthusiastic advocate of MARIO Framework.

Research author Lynette Vernon, Ph.D., was involved in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. St. Clair, R., Kintrea, K., & Houston, M. (2013). Silver bullet or red herring? New evidence on the place of aspirations in education. Oxford Review of Education, 39(6), 719–738.