They say it takes a village to raise a child, but in the case of a student with special needs, it takes an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) team.
At the age of 16, students with an IEP are considered part of the team. They are expected to attend their educational meetings and advocate for themselves. The IEP meetings and the documents they generate represent the legal educational contract between the family of a child with a disability and the school (Kozik, 2018).
Students with autism spectrum disorder often struggle as they prepare to transition out of high school. Teachers of these students are tasked with writing a transition plan to help them explore their post-graduation options. When doing so, teachers must remember to consider each individual student’s strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. High school transition plans consist of interest and skill surveys, as well as internships and apprenticeship opportunities (Szidon, Ruppar, & Smith, 2015). Many students with autism may benefit from an after-school job or even volunteer work in order to give them life experience and help them determine what field of study they may want to pursue.
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However, preparing autistic students for life after graduation does not fall solely on the school and teachers. Parents of children with a disability must be invested in their child’s future. For them, parenting does not necessarily end at the age of 18. Some students with a disability are able to live on their own after high school, while others are not. Many adults with disabilities rely on their parents for care long after they become legal adults themselves. This can be a huge undertaking for parents as they get older. Often, they worry about who will take care of their child if something happens to them.
Parents express many fears and insecurities during this time. They should be encouraged to have high, but realistic expectations for their child. They must teach their child to be as independent as possible, and that should start at a young age. Students with autism need to know what to expect, and without proper preparation and planning, college and life afterward can be full of the unexpected.
Many parents state that, even by college age, their autistic child may still struggle with self-advocacy, telling others what he/she needs, independence, managing emotions, and personal adaptive skills. Doing more during the high school period to help with these deficiencies may help improve the transition process. Without improvement in these areas, these students will continue to rely on the adults in their life for support, financially and emotionally. Extra care is needed to encourage them to reach optimal independence (Elias & White, 2018).
How can you prepare an autistic teen for life after high school?
Autistic students should be encouraged to fulfill their own needs, such as bathing, brushing their hair and teeth, and other daily health regimens. Practicing money skills is another important area that should be taught and reinforced, starting at a young age. Something as simple as letting the child pay for an item at a convenience store can make a huge difference in allowing him/her to feel independent. These students should also be proficient at basic housekeeping skills, such as laundry, doing the dishes, and taking the trash out.
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How to Transition Your Young Adult with Asperger's Into the World
Focusing on these skills will help enable a student with a disability grow up and become a contributing member of society. Students (and their parents) should start preparing for life after graduation a year or so beforehand, to give the student time to mentally and emotionally prepare. Touring the different options is one way to put a student’s mind at ease. Something as simple as rehearsing the walk from the parking lot to the college classroom can go a long way to help alleviate the fear of the unknown.
One option for students who may get overwhelmed in a traditional college setting is to participate in online college courses. However, that may be too isolating for some. Attending a local college and living at home is an option, as is attending a technical school. For those who decide to go away to college and experience life in a dorm room, requesting a single room may be beneficial because it will provide the student with the needed privacy and ability to decompress each day.
Colleges offer disability services and those should be explored ahead of time, in order to determine the level of support that will be given. Ultimately, the parent and student must explore all of their options and determine what is the best fit. With assistance and encouragement from those close by, an individual with autism can achieve a fulfilling life.
Elias, R., & White, S. (2018). Autism goes to college: Understanding the needs of a student population on the rise. J Autism Dev Discord, 48, 732-746. DOI:10.1007/s10803-017-3075-7.
Kozik, P. (2018). Can appreciative inquiry increase positive interactions, student self-advocacy and turn taking during IEP meetings? Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 18(2), 114-123. DOI:10.1111/1471- 3802.12398.
Szidon, S., Ruppar, A., & Smith, L. (2015). Five steps for developing effective transition plans for high school students with autism spectrum disorder. Teaching Exceptional Children, 47(3), 147-152. DOI:10.1177/0040059914559780.
This article was featured in Issue 109 –Attaining Good Health.