As rates of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) continue to rise not only are more and more students in public schools affected by an ASD, but more and more will be exiting public schools in to the workforce or postsecondary education. Calculated projections predict there will be 747,124 adults over 22 years old with an ASD in 2030; numbers that reflect a 625% increase from 2010 (Rogers, 2011). There is evidence that high-functioning young adults with an ASD, in particular, may fall through the cracks of the education system when success after schooling is considered. High-functioning autism (HFA) or Asperger’s Syndrome includes individuals with ASD that have average (or above average) intellectual ability (Hartley & Sikora, 2009). The stark difference between cognitive skills and social skills often results in increased levels of loneliness and isolation in this population because of their desire to form meaningful social relationships, but their inability to do so (Bauminger, Shulman, & Agam, 2003). Adolescents on the high end of the spectrum often participate in general education due to their intellectual capabilities and the decision is often made to put them on the “diploma track” to graduate from high school. Earning a diploma is an impressive and well-earned accomplishment for these students, however there is room for concern regarding their future beyond graduation.
Generally speaking, individuals with ASD have a hard time finding employment and the number of young adults with ASD searching for employment just continues to rise. The number of youth with ASD who closed out of Vocational Rehabilitation programs tripled between 2003 and 2008 (Smith & Lugas, 2010). When comparing the outcomes between young adults with ASD and young adults with other disabilities the numbers can be deceiving if not examined closely. While 63% of young adults with ASD who received VR employment services exited the VR system with employment, compared to 55.6% of individuals with other disabilities, young adults with ASD are working on average eight hours less a week and earning $120 less per week than individuals with other disabilities successfully exiting VR programs (Smith & Lugas, 2010). The inverse relationship between the rate of employment and hours worked and wages earned has many possible explanations that require further investigation. For example, it could be that low-paying jobs with limited hours are easier to find and require fewer skills. It could also be that these jobs tend to be more forgiving of the problematic behaviors we see in individuals with ASD (Cimera & Cowan, 2009).
In this article I have provided information and resources concerning several topics relevant to supporting an individual with ASD through the transition from school toward postsecondary goals. First, there is a discussion of predictors of positive transition including teaching social skills, promoting self-advocacy skills, encouraging work experiences, and enhancing collaboration between schools, families and counselors. Next, for use in the school setting there are tips for writing transition IEP goals for a student with ASD. Third, is a discussion of the factors to consider when making the choice between employment or postsecondary education. Finally, there is a timeline for supporting an individual with ASD from diagnosis to adulthood. It is never too early to consider what can be done to ensure that all individuals with ASD move closer to a meaningful adult life.
Resources for Supporting Individuals on
the Autism Spectrum through Transition
Wehman, P., Smith, M. D., & Schall, C. (2009). Autism and the transition to adulthood: Success beyond the classroom. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Pub.
McManmon, M. P. (2012). Made for good purpose: What every parent needs to know to help their adolescent with Asperger's, high-functioning autism, or learning difference become an independent adult. London; Philadephia: Jessica Kingsley Pub.
Glisan, E. M. (2008). Attainment's life skill lessons: 650 ready-to-use transition activities. Verona, WI: Attainment Co.
Bunch, G. O., Finnegan, K., Pearpoint, J., Fowke, B., & Park, P. (2009). Planning for real life after school: Ways for families and teachers to plan for students experiencing significant challenge. Toronto: Inclusion Press.
Wehmeyer, M. L., & Sands, D. J. (1998). Making it happen: Student involvement in education planning, decision making, and instruction. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Pub.
Indiana Secondary Transition Resource Center: https://instrc.indiana.edu/