A Review of Transition Resources for Adolescents and Adults with Autism
Written by Daniela Fazzio, PhD, BCBA-D,
St. Amant and University of Manitoba
Parents and caregivers of children with autism often worry about the services that will be available to their children as they reach adolescence and adulthood. The common reaction for many parents is to feel lost in the "service gap." While there are a number of provisions for funding and accommodations up to the high school level, once an individual reaches adulthood, services are more difficult to learn about and access, and can vary across the states. Funding and services that are available through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are no longer available once a student graduates with a high school diploma or turns 21 years old. This article serves to summarize resources and tools that are available to parents planning for their child’s transition to adolescence and adulthood.
Autism Speaks offers a series of documents within the Transition Tool Kit, an online guide for families preparing for transition from IDEA services to adult services. Transition from services is a formal process, outlined in IDEA, and includes a coordinated set of activities to be started no later than when the student turns 16 years- old. The transition plan must be done within the Individualized Education Program (IEP), include the student and his or her family, and focus on "improving the academic and functional achievement of the child to facilitate movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment, continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation." To include the student as much as possible in the process and prepare him or her for the actual transition IEP meeting, the Transition Tool Kit suggests frequent discussions with the student about what he or she would like to do in the future. In fact, self-advocacy skills should be taught to the student, starting with explaining and discussing the nature of his or her disability. Of course, such instruction would need to be individualized for each student. The Transition Tool Kit suggests the following topics to discuss with the student in preparation for the transition meeting:
- What is a disability?
- Do you have a disability?
- What is the name of the law that allows you to receive special services from the school?
- What is an accommodation?
- Do you have any accommodations in your classes?
- What is an IEP?
- Do you have an IEP?
In the actual meeting, the student’s involvement can vary accordingly. In addition to the student and guardians, others involved in the transition planning process can include teachers, school administrators, related service providers (e.g., behavioral consultants, speech and language pathologists), representatives of outside agencies (e.g., vocational rehabilitation), and other individuals who support the student.
According to the Transition Tool Kit, in preparation for the transition meeting it is important to have solid information about the student’s abilities and challenges so that plans are made based on his or her actual needs. Formal assessments done in advance can help identify those strengths and weaknesses. Most commonly, assessments fall in one of three levels: Level 1 assessments are questionnaires that help establish areas of interest and long term career goals, Level 2 assessments compare the child’s performance to a normative sample of same age peers, and Level 3 assessments are used for students who do not perform well under testing conditions and instead provide hands-on experience to assess how the student performs on a variety of tasks and environments. Results should inform preparation for and discussion in the meeting about the student’s future community participation, adult services, integrated employment, post-secondary education, vocational education, and independent living.
Additional resources that could inform the transition planning include the following:
- A High School/High Tech Vocational Rehabilitation Program is "a comprehensive transition program that uses a variety of activities and innovative approaches to expose transition-age youth with disabilities (ages 14 to 24) to careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (referred to as the STEM careers) and other technology-based professions" (Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP). It also encourages such youth to pursue postsecondary education and training. The ODEP maintains a list of states that provide such services and related outcomes.
- One-Stop Career Centers are available in many states, and offer information, training, and other employment-related services. For example, staff can guide individuals through assessments of their skills and interests, which are two important considerations when looking for a job or career. One of these assessments is an employability check-up by state. The website CareerOneStop has a wealth of information.
- Disability Program Navigators (DPN) provides information about work support programs available to the individual and also staff of the One-Stop Career Centers.
- The National Center on Workforce and Disability also provides valuable information on where to start and how to go about finding a job; read here about Customized Employment.
The Department of Labor also lists supports: Personal Assistance Services, which "may involve such things as retrieving work materials that are out of reach or providing travel assistance for an employee with a mobility impairment, helping employees with cognitive disabilities in decision-making, reading handwritten materials to an employee with a visual impairment, or ensuring a sign language interpreter is present during staff meetings to accommodate an employee with a hearing impairment" (Office of Disability Employment Office). Other reasonable accommodations are a right under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. Other resources for accommodations include the Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, which "provides the client with the training and other services that are needed to return to work, to enter a new line of work, or to enter the workforce for the first time." For those engaged in a job search, Accessible Employment is a job board geared towards workers with disabilities.
The Federal Budget of 2012 promises an increase of several millions of dollars in funding to support people with disabilities in diverse areas including research, education, employment, housing, and transportation, which should be encouraging to families across the country (autismvotes.com).
For more details on the above-mentioned programs, browse the Office of Disability Employment Program website and do not forget about national and local advocacy agencies. For example, Autism Speaks has this comprehensive package of tips on transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, Autism New Jersey has this wonderful document on services in New Jersey; it details important aspects of the job search specific to that State and general information such as relevant sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and job search strategies.