Transition Learning Center Boosts Career and College Success

At the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School’s Transition Learning Center, students with invisible disabilities such as a mental health challenge take an additional year to prepare for college and career. Learn about this unique program.

For some students, an extra year between high school and either college or the working world can make all the difference in their success. That’s why the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School (O-School) launched the Transition Learning Center (TLC) program this year. “The TLC is designed to support students in transition and to form a bridge between high school and adult life through instructional, vocational, and community-based experiences. The program helps promote greater independence in the execution of practical life skills for these young adults,” explains Carmen Roberts, Ed.D., Director of Transitional Services and Programs with the O-School. 

The TLC is open to students with an IEP between the ages of 17 and 21 who have, or have nearly, satisfied their academic requirements, but who have post-secondary aspirations and would benefit from time and skill development to achieve their goals, Roberts says.

While TLC candidates typically exhibit persistent mental health challenges or may have a diagnosis of autism, they are also of average or above average intelligence. Additionally, they are expected to show the ability to self-regulate and to exhibit readiness to engage in a variety of community-based activities, whether they are field trips or work experiences.

“Students in the TLC must be goal-oriented and motivated to attend a post-secondary program of study or pursue competitive employment,” Roberts says, adding that students don’t need to know what college they’d like to attend or where they’d like to work. “Perhaps they want to use this program to help them move forward, by identifying and preparing for their next step.”

Helping students realize their dreams

Students with invisible disabilities, like mental health challenges or autism, often don’t have many options, Roberts says. “They might take a gap year or enter college or the workforce unprepared, or their parents might pay out of pocket for a costly college transition program on top of paying college tuition,” Roberts says. TLC candidates have an IEP and have not yet accepted a high school diploma, making them eligible for special education services until the age of 22. “This can be a win-win for students and their parents because they can access services and supports that are targeted to help them become college and career ready.”

Ideal candidates for the TLC are students who are intellectually curious and motivated, but who can also attend a full-day, five-day-a-week program. “This is what sets us apart from other programs in which students have flex schedules,” Roberts says. “We want students to stay with us for one semester to one year in most cases.”

Practical instruction supported by therapy

With the help of a special education teacher and a transition coach, students develop or sharpen their skills in money management, job readiness, kitchen safety, self-advocacy and executive functioning.

“Along with these skills we recognize the importance of mental and physical fitness, so we provide individual and group therapy and private yoga classes at a nearby yoga studio, plus cardio and strength training right in our building,” Roberts says. As it becomes safe to do so in a post-pandemic environment, students will have opportunities for community-based internships.  

“We are strong believers that for students with invisible disabilities and social deficits, it’s helpful for them to work with people they don’t know so they can put soft skills into practice,” Roberts explains. While a community internship is still a controlled environment, it’s an experience where students are expected to perform and apply the skills such as task initiation, organization and active listening. “These are all important skills, no matter where they are applied,” she says.

At the TLC, the therapeutic milieu of the O-School provides a strong foundation for rapport, trust and relationship-building experiences to help students thrive.

“Students who attend the TLC are perfectly capable of realizing their dreams but need additional time and support to develop the skills necessary to prepare for success,” Roberts says. “That’s truly a necessary component because we can help them by providing time, support, practice, instruction and experiences.”

“Our purpose is to help our students launch.”

Parents can learn more about the Transition Learning Center Program at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School’s site,

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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