The transition to school can be a both an exciting and stressful event at the same time. For the parents of children with special needs, the stress could be overwhelming for them as they are often faced with difficult decisions and barriers related to their children’s educational futures (Janus, Kopechanski, Cameron, & Hughes, 2008). These decisions, while contingent on the context and the nature of the children’s special needs, are usually about the kind of school or educational setting that they think best suits their children.Parents also have to overcome or work around barriers in terms of funding and support (Janus et al., 2008). They had to contend with the availability of support in terms of resources and properly trained personnel (Valeo, 2003). Several studies highlighted the frustration of parents, who are often dissatisfied with the lack of school resources (Hess, Molina, & Kozleski, 2006; Janus, Cameron, Lefort, & Kopechanski, 2007; Lake & Billingsley, 2000), as well as the lengthy wait.
These parents had to wait for school vacancies to avail, wait for test results, or even waiting to see how an impairment manifests, while their children continue to be deprived of intervention (Tudball, Fisher, Sands, & Dowse, 2002, p ii). Parents are also concerned that their children often begin the school term without proper support (Janus et al., 2008; Russell, 2003).As the children transition from one placement to another, they often experience discontinuity (Carlson et al., 2009) as support that was available to them ceases and new support is often based on fresh assessments and also availability of such support. This discontinuity poses a major challenge to families as they soon find their children back on waiting lists.
Discontinuities can also result in repetition of assessments, filling up more application forms and requests that seemingly leads to inaction and longer waiting times (Wolery, 1999). Assessments processes can be inherently challenging for children with special needs and their families especially in the absence of continuous communication, sensitivity to family experiences or follow-up action (Tudball et al., 2002). The absence of communication between schools and services during the transition process deprives these children of the opportunity to build on prior experiences. The responsibility often then falls to parents to be the link during the transition process and be the advocate for their children (Hess et al., 2006; Wang, Mannan, Poston, Turnbull, & Summers, 2004). For parents with special needs, the role of an advocate is more demanding and difficult than that of most other parents (Ryan & Cole, 2009).
As in most cases, their constant involvement as advocates are often prerequisites of obtaining support for their children (Case, 2000; Duncan, 2003) and becomes particularly taxing for them, who often also struggle with difficulties of their own and may feel isolated and marginalised. For families who are experiencing financial difficulties, a child with special needs adds on significant financial burden (Breen, 2009). The role of advocate also takes up considerable time and commitment and has consequential effects on the parents’ ability to contribute at work and engage in other activities. As a result, while some parents feel a sense of empowerment in their advocacy roles, others feel overwhelmed by the constant struggle to obtain services or support (Hess et al., 2006).
As advocates for their children, they feel frustrated when their expertise and knowledge of their children are not valued or taken seriously (Tudball et al., 2002). Parents are a vital source of information and could share knowledge of their children that professionals are not privy to. Therefore, there must exist coordination and collaboration between family and professionals to ensure successful transition for children with special needs.Research suggests that it is critical for the different stakeholders in the transition of a child with special needs, to come together, interact and collaborate with one another (Einarsdottir, Perry, & Dockett, 2008).