Parents of children with autism know that many of them struggle with even small transitions. Although every individual is different, many people with autism thrive when they follow very rigid routines that allow them to always know what will happen next so they can prepare. As children with autism get older, they are forced to deal with more substantial life changes that go with growing up — moving from middle school to high school, making new friends, trying new activities, et cetera.
Graduating from high school and going to college or entering the workforce is often the biggest transition that a young adult with autism will face in their lifetime. For them to achieve success, it’s important to take time to help them prepare for it.
Difficulty with Transitions and Autism
According to Indiana University, people on the autism spectrum “are more likely to have restrictive patterns of behaviors (per the diagnostic criteria) that are hard to disrupt, thus creating difficulty at times of transitions.” Furthermore, the scope of the transition doesn’t necessarily correspond to the person’s reaction. While a small change sometimes sparks a huge response, a large one may not necessarily cause a large problem, particularly with proper advance preparation.
Autism Transition Strategies for Transitioning to Adulthood
Parents of young adults with autism should remember that they are not alone in preparing their children for this transition. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that governs special education services in the U.S., and most parents of children with autism are probably familiar with it. Requirements of IDEA include establishing Individualized Education Programs (IEP) by the time a child turns 16, and each IEP must include transition assistance, such as approaches that are:
- Based on the child’s strengths and areas of need
- Focused on instruction and services for education, employment, and other postsecondary living skills
A child’s teachers and advocates at school should work to meet the requirements of IEP transitions as early as possible. The IEP provides a good place for parents to start discussing this big life transition with their children.
Ensure Access to Assistance
Although there are many emotional challenges to overcome for a young adult transitioning out of high school, it’s also important to ensure that practical support is in place. Many government assistance programs change or end after a child turns 18. When planning for this transition, parents must make sure that they have applied for appropriate assistance so their children can continue to receive the financial and logistical support they are legally entitled to receive by law.
Tips for Transitioning to College
Students with autism or other learning differences are more than capable of thriving in a college environment with the right tools. Parents can start by obtaining a 504 plan for their college-bound children. IEPs do not follow young adults into college, so it’s necessary to establish a 504 plan that gives students access to support services and provides necessary academic accommodations.
It’s also a good idea for parents to get a current evaluation of students from their high schools or from private professionals. An up-to-date evaluation may be necessary for parents and students to apply for disability insurance and other government services once the child turns 18.
Help with Planning
Even neurotypical students who thrive in high school can struggle with the independence of college. Parents should work with their children to help plan what their days will look like in the future. Visual schedules are particularly helpful for people with autism who may have trouble remembering classes and other appointments. Parents can also work with their children to enforce good study habits long before they begin college, whether that means helping them find assistive technology, tutors, or study techniques that work best for their particular needs.
Practice Independent Living Skills
Even if a child plans to live at home when they start college, it’s important to start practicing independent living skills. Learning skills like meal planning, grocery shopping, doing laundry, cleaning, and managing personal hygiene can allow young adults to contribute to the household and prepare for an eventual life living on their own.
Tips for Transitioning to the Workforce
Not all high school graduates choose to attend college. For people with autism, the transition to employment from high school can be even more jarring than attending college. A career training program for people with autism can help ease this transition by helping students identify their strengths and choose a career path that is well-suited to them. Many of these programs are available to students before they graduate high school.
An internship can be a great opportunity for a young adult with autism to find out what it’s like to be in the workforce and learn about career possibilities. The transition to work often comes with more independence and less assistance than someone formerly in high school previously experienced, even those who are neurotypical. An internship with a company that has experience employing people with autism may already have the training and skills to accommodate these interns’ learning differences and set them up for success.
Develop and Practice Social Skills
Like study skills, social skills are something that young adults with autism need to practice long before they enter the workforce. Learning social cues and appropriate interactions will not only serve them well in their independent lives, but it will also improve their ability to successfully complete interviews for jobs, ultimately making them more successful.
Consider a Transition Program
Whether a young adult intends to continue living at home or move out on their own as they attend college or enter the workforce, this can be a time of great emotional upheaval. Parents should never feel that they must undertake all the planning and preparation on their own. Attending a transition program for young adults with autism, such as a residential program or summer camp program at Transitions, can help students practice and hone the skills they will need to thrive in life after high school.