The transition trap: Factors that foreclose opportunity for students with severe disabilities

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Douglas P. Biklen


Opportunity foreclosure, Special education

Subject Categories

Special Education and Teaching


Transition from school to work is a process that involves planning, deliberations and negotiations among special education professionals, adult service professionals, parents and students. It is designed to accomplish the movement of school graduates to productive post-school life, including employment. It is widely accepted that transition decisions and activities should be based upon individual student needs, individual student preferences and interests and be grounded in functional, community-based instruction and experience. This dissertation focusses on the transition process for those students with the most severe disabilities and how the transition professionals make decisions that determine adult futures.

This dissertation is based upon the key proposition that understanding the transition process requires in depth, close up observation of the interactions between and among parents and professionals, both in formal decision making processes and informal contexts. Therefore the research method used was a qualitative methodological design. Participant observation, interviewing and document review were conducted in two high school programs, two sheltered workshops and two adult day care centers, and with the professionals and parent participants in each.

This study found that certain powerful factors influence transition decisions. These include: professional notions of disability and the continuum of services; professional forms of planning, deliberation and negotiation both among themselves and with parents; professional values, attitudes and perspectives about work, integration and individualization.

This study suggests that efforts to have the transition process provide students with the most severe disabilities productive post-school opportunities are unlikely to be successful in a context where adult day care and traditional sheltered employment are the predominant transition options.


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