Is Your Child With Autism Ready for Adulthood?

Once a student graduates or ages out of the school system, the support and structure the system once offered is no longer available. The completion of high school is a time of excitement for a young and his/her family but also can be scary.

Is Your Child With Autism Ready for Adulthood?

Many individuals with autism struggle with change and the transition from secondary education to adulthood can be daunting. A student with disabilities who has not been prepared for this change and does not have a plan could be left sitting at home on a couch with few prospects. Secondary transition refers to the process of preparing students with disabilities for adult life.

Transition requirements are spelled out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and specify that there must be coordinated, measurable, annual goals and transitional services that will reasonably enable the student to meet post-secondary goals. This process must begin by age 16, although some states require it to start at age 14.

A section in the Individualized Education Program (IEP), called the Independent Transition Plan (ITP), is designated to describe the goals for adulthood. The process of the assessment and identification of goals yields an increased likelihood that children with autism will be prepared for adult life. The transition assessment must be age-appropriate and should identify the student’s needs based on his/her interests and preferences.

In order to be useful, these goals must be realistic and feasible; therefore, they should have a foundation in accurate assessment and should reflect an informed understanding of the child’s aspirations. Using information from the transition assessment, a plan can be created that aims toward post-secondary education, career, and independent living (when appropriate).

The measurable goals delineated in the ITP should result in transition services to be provided by the school district. These services need to consist of a coordinated set of activities that are aimed at the student’s individual goals and are focused on improving academic and functional achievement, which will facilitate the transition from school to activities such as post-secondary education.

Post-secondary education might include vocational education, integrated employment, continuing adult education, adult services, independent living and/or community participation. Goals must be based on the individual child’s needs and take into consideration the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests established through the transition assessment. (IDEA 2004,

Preparing for adulthood is essential for all young people, but for individuals with ASD, this process is even more important. The school’s responsibility for secondary transition includes the following components:

Checklist for School:

1. Transition assessment

Schools must provide an assessment that is age-appropriate and related to education or training, employment, and when appropriate, independent living. The assessment is an ongoing process and can include formal assessments, such as adaptive behavior and daily living skills assessments, interest inventories and employment skills tests. Informal assessments, such as interviews, questionnaires, and direct assessments are often included.

2. Measurable postsecondary goals

The ITP portion must include measurable postsecondary goals in the following areas:

  • Education and/or training
    • Education: community college, university, technical/trade/vocation school
    • Training-vocational or career field training, apprenticeship, On-the-Job Training (OJT)
  • Employment
    • Paid employment, non-paid employment or military
  • Independent living, if appropriate
    • Independent living skills, health/safety, financial/income, transportation/mobility, social relationship, recreation/leisure, self-advocacy/future planning

3. Indicate goal

Each goal must indicate the type of instruction, related services, community experience, or development of employment or other post-school objectives.

4. Course of study to reach goal

The IEP/transition plan needs to include a course of study that will reasonably enable the student to meet his or her post-secondary goals.

5. IEP meeting with student

The student must be invited to the IEP meeting.

6. IEP meeting to include post-school service providers

Post-school service providers should be invited to the IEP meeting, especially as secondary education is ending.

7. Update postsecondary goals

Postsecondary goals need to be updated annually ensuring that each goal was addressed and updated goals documented in the current IEP.

Parents play a central role in supporting children toward becoming adults. Children with disabilities often require so much support to help them through their day-to-day challenges that it is easy for parents, who are persistently on the front line, to overlook opportunities to guide their children to learn and practice skills that will be essential in adulthood.

Some behaviors that have been acceptable in a child interfere with the emerging adult participating in post-secondary education activities, receiving adult services or beginning to work. Success in adulthood depends in part on behaviors that are compatible with working and studying in an inclusive community.

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Those behaviors are best learned before adulthood. An assessment of the child’s current skills and behaviors provides a baseline to establish goals for the home. No matter the level of a child’s skills, increasing skills will increase independence. The parents’ responsibilities include:

Checklist for Home:

1. Daily living and hygiene

Is your child as independent as he/ she can possibly be? Are there activities of daily living that he can learn to do on his own?

2. Meal preparation

Is your child able to get his/her own meals? Can he/she learn to prepare any part of his meal?

3. Shopping and marketing

Can your child make a marketing list? Can he/she learn to navigate a market?

4. Safety in the home

Is your child able to be safe on his/her own? Can he learn to manage an emergency? Increasing abilities in this area can help your child be safer, even if he is not able to be left on his own.

5. Laundry

Can your child participate or learn to be independent in washing, folding and putting away his/her laundry?

6. Daily routines

Is your child independent in waking up and going to sleep? Can he dress himself/herself? Independently toilet himself?

7. Community involvement

Will your child be involved in the community after secondary education?

8. Expressing frustrations appropriately

Will your child be able to express frustrations in an appropriate manner?

Graduation from high school or aging out of the school system is an important milestone in a child’s life whether or not one has autism. Being well prepared and having a plan can make the difference between a smooth transition and one fraught with difficulties. Formal structures exist to guide this transition. Parents should ensure that these components are in place to facilitate their child reaching his/her potential as a young adult.

This article was featured in Issue 98 – Fresh ASD Guidance For A New Year

Claudia Wenger

Claudia Wenger, MS, BCBA has worked in the special needs community in many capacities starting with teaching special education, managing a high school class, providing full inclusion, staff training and management, and developing and managing adult services such as independent living, employment, and day programs. She created Claudia Cares Consulting Inc. to support individuals with special needs and their families during the transition from school to adulthood through structured assessment, goal identification and positive parent training. Claudia holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and special education from the University of Southern California and is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst. She has helped many families successfully launch their children into adulthood. For more information visit the website