MAPS Planning to Honor a Student’s Strengths

When Adler Utzman enrolled in the transition co-op in Bend last September, his family wanted to help him hit the ground running.

Adler’s mother, Stephanie Utzman, was searching for a way to make his entry into the transition co-op smooth and efficient. Adler was 19 at the time, and students can only participate in transition programs until they turn 21. How could he make the most of this time?

“Adler had just two years in transition to learn as much as possible about employment, independent living and being an adult. I wanted to help him get the ball rolling through some form of person-centered planning,” said Stephanie.

The teachers at Bend’s transition co-op connected the Utzmans to Sue Hayes, who leads the MAPS and PATH planning team at the High Desert Education Service District (HDESD). PATH planning helps students define the steps needed to reach a goal and helps set up a timeline. MAPS planning has a different focus. The goal is to recognize a student’s strengths and gifts by gathering all the people who work closely with the student and sharing their stories. 

Hayes recommended MAPS planning for Adler, and the Utzmans agreed it sounded like a useful tool. By the end of the MAPS process, Adler and his family had gained far more than they expected.  



The MAPS planning diagram


MAPS uses a visual diagram to tell the story of one individual—often a student or young adult with disabilities. To fill in the MAPS diagram, all the key people in this person’s network come together. The group can include family, teachers, therapists, caregivers, neighbors and friends. They each share positive stories about their experiences with the student to fill in the MAPS diagram. 

Hayes guided the conversation, asking each person to talk about what they enjoy about working with Adler, the things they know he likes or dislikes, how they engage with him, and what kind of activities work well. Along the way, they shine a light on the student’s dreams, and their nightmares, too. Each participant gains a deeper understanding of the whole person. The final document created can be used to clarify future plans and develop new opportunities for the student.

“This planning gave us a way to celebrate Adler’s gifts. It lets us understand what is helpful for him and what to avoid. MAPS is a celebratory process, coming together to share experiences, the positive ones and the heartaches too. We don’t often make time to share positive stories, but these are so important. This is how we help students use their strengths and be part of a community,” said Hayes.



Adler had a person-centered plan done before he entered high school. As Stephanie explained, that plan helped to guide his education, support services, activities and sports during his high school years. But as a young adult starting the transition program, he has different interests and abilities.

For Adler, just having all his favorite people together made the gathering special. Because he is non-verbal, his body language and affect often communicate his feelings. “He is an incredibly social young man and greeted each person in his own way. He was keyed up by the positive energy in the room—he knew this was all about him,” said Stephanie.

As a parent, Stephanie appreciated the opportunity to listen to positive stories about her child. “So often parents only hear about the problems. For us, it was touching and meaningful to have the focus be on the wonderful parts of Adler,” said Stephanie.

The final document will serve as a map for Adler’s support circle. His new teachers at the transition co-op will use it to shape how he is supported at school. Future care providers can use the map to get to know Adler and better understand his needs. And his family will rely on it too as they help him take steps toward independent living.

“The MAPS planning showed me that Adler has so much more ability and potential to be independent than we realized. This experience was impactful for all of us, in different ways. I think it will make a huge difference as we plan for A’s future,” said Stephanie.

Transition students interested in MAPS or PATH planning should talk with their transition teacher to learn more about the process.