Transitioning to Adulthood with Autism
Individuals with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often receive a range of services including speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavior therapy. Services are provided through the school system and outside agencies. As these individuals get older, it is important that the treatment team all work together to create a transition plan. The team includes the special education teacher, parents, general education teacher (if mainstreamed), therapists (speech, occupational, behavior, etc.), representatives from outside agencies, and the student him or herself.
When planning specifically for the transition for adolescents, it is recommended that the initial planning starts between 10 and 13 years old. More serious planning will occur as the child is in their teenage years. This process requires continual involvement, planning, and coordination between the school and other key community agencies. Parents of students with ASD have reported difficulties in the transition progress including a lack of information, lack of availability, transportation difficulties, scheduling conflicts, and services of poor quality.
The team works to create goals for the student in the areas of academics, employment, community, and living situation. To best support these students with the transition, teachers and therapists need to work on targeted skills in different settings including the special education classroom, general education classroom, and community settings (Wehman & Kregel, 2004).
Transition Goal Areas
Only 38% of students with ASD graduated with a standard diploma or higher. The transition team needs to continually assess the needs of the student and adjust services to help the student achieve their educational goals. If higher education is not a goal, the team can help look for employment options.
Meaningful integrated employment should be the goal for all individuals with ASD who express a desire to work and should be the first choice offered in the transition planning process. A variety of settings are available including training centers, supported employment, and competitive employment.
To help the transition into the workforce, it is recommended that individuals gain work experiences while in high school. These experiences can include career exploration activities and assessments to determine task preferences. Most individuals with ASD self-report difficulty in jobs or loss of employment due to social and communication difficulties. Training should focus on interpersonal skills that will help in the work environment.
When determining living situations, individuals should be assisted to live where they want and with whom they want. Although 80% of individuals live with family members, other individuals might desire living independently or choose to live in a supported community home.
Therapists and parents should aim to provide education in community environments where the student is likely to frequent and utilize as an adult. This provides the individual with opportunities to socialize in the community and learn applicable skills.
As part of a treatment team for individuals with ASD, we, as therapists, are an integral part of the planning process. Communication between all educators, service providers, family, and the individual is key to create a plan for a successful transition.
Hendricks, D. & Wehman, P. (2009). Transition from school to adulthood for youth with autism spectrum disorders: Review and recommendations. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 24, 77–88. doi:10.1177/108835760832982710.1177/1088357608329827