Transition to
Post-Secondary Life

Focus on the Process

As challenging as the other transitions can be, parents and caregivers usually dread the transition to post-secondary life the most.

The school system offers young people with Down syndrome a safe, engaging environment for five days a week, ten months of the year, and after secondary school ends, it falls to the families to support their young person in constructing a new life. As frightening as this prospect may be, however, it can also be a source of new opportunities, new learning and significant personal growth.

There are several factors that must be acknowledged if this transition, which will unfold over months and years, is to bring a good life for this generation of young people with Down syndrome and successive generations:


Government, regardless of its political orientation, is a slow-moving engine of social change. Families cannot count on government programs to be the single source of solutions for their young people with Down syndrome.


Some government programs offer solutions that do not work for young people with Down syndrome, anyway. By promoting a philosophy of “independence” when many people with Down syndrome do better in an ethos of “interdependence”, families should continue to work with schools and decision makers to find individualized solutions that lead to optimal solutions to the question of how to make a good life for adults with Down syndrome.


Smaller, local associations, such as Down Syndrome Associations and Community Living groups, while they may not see themselves as powerful, might be in a good position to understand and helpfully address some of the needs of young people with Down syndrome in a particular local area.


Groups of parents can be very powerful in articulating a vision of the kinds of innovations that are needed to secure the future of their young people with Down syndrome, and they can support each other, share information and help create solutions.

The prospect of their transition to the post-secondary world for young people with Down syndrome sometimes inspires hopeless comments like, “There’s nothing out there!”, or “It’s like falling off a cliff – with no safety net!” It is understandable that families feel concerned, even panicky, but a systematic approach might yield up more options than expected.

A systematic approach to the post-secondary transition could look like this:

  • Construct a vision of what a good life for your young person might look like, in the immediate and slightly-longer-term future. The young person with Down syndrome should be consulted in the design of this vision.
  • Survey the local agencies that work with young people with Down syndrome and gather information on the available options and programs.  Follow up on co-op placements and other transition experiences your child may have had, while in secondary school.
  • Network with other parents to share ideas, information and services.