Plan for Success: Making a Smooth Transition into Adulthood

By: Sabrina Riera, Rachel Christensen, MSW, Suzi Naguib, Psy.D.                                                                                                BLOG PDF

Regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), going from being a teen to being an adult can be a scary and often difficult transition to make. Suddenly, you’re expected to be independent and responsible, juggling work, managing finances, and for many, going to college. If you’re living away from home, there’s the struggle to adjust to living on your own, paying your bills, and being away from the familiarity and comfort of your parent’s home. Aside from these everyday responsibilities, there’s also the struggle of managing your time effectively and making time for friendships and relationships. For many teens, dealing with all of these factors can be extremely overwhelming, making this a stressful and difficult time in their lives.

For a teen diagnosed with autism, this time can bring about a number of other obstacles. From struggling with social interactions to having trouble with daily living skills, these difficulties can make the transition period an even more difficult time (Adreon, 2004 ; Gentry et al., 2010; Ozonoff et al., 2002; Howlin et al., 2004). Because of this, many adults with autism have trouble gaining employment and are often highly dependent on their family for financial and residential support (Howlin et al., 2004; Shogren & Plotner, 2012). While it is true that this is a very challenging time for young adults with ASD, the transition can unfold more smoothly and may lead to better outcomes if proper planning and supports are in place.

Proper Planning is Key
In the past two decades, the prevalence rates of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have increased significantly; since 2009, rates have increased a startling 23% (Center for Disease Control [CDC], 2012). As an increasing number of identified teens with ASD are growing up, there is a great need to provide services to make a smoother transition into adulthood; however, little is known about this process at the current time and available services are often limited and poor in quality (Adreon & Durocher, 2007; Hendricks & Wehman, 2009; Levine et al., 2004).

Many adults with ASD, especially those with average or above average IQs, no longer qualify for services after high school. Many have also had inadequate transition planning and continue to live without appropriate services (Borthwick, 2012; Gerhardt & Lainer, 2010). As a result, only an estimated 15-20% of adults with high functioning autism manage to achieve good independent living outcomes, gain a quality education, and become employed (Cameto, Levine, & Wagner, 2004).

Plan Early!
In order to eliminate some of these obstacles and facilitate a smoother transition into adulthood, parents and teens need to begin planning early. As a part of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), school districts are required to have a plan in place by the time the child is 14 years old (VanBergeijk, Klin, & Volkmar, 2008;). In addition to early planning, active parental and student involvement in transition planning has been linked with positive outcomes for adolescents with ASD after high school (An¬¬keny, Wilkins & Spain, 2009; Kraemer & Blacher, 2001; Defur, Todd-Allen, Getzel, 2001; Held et al., 2004; Defur, 2003; Beamish et al., 2010; Hagner et al., 2012).

IEP: Individualized Education Plan 
“Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” (IDEA) is a comprehensive Federal statute which entitles each student with a disability to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to meet his or her unique needs. IDEA provides funding that enables students to access independent living and vocational skills training until they reach 22 years of age if necessary (VanBergeijk, Klin, & Volkmar, 2008). Under IDEA, schools are required to support students with a disability through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) (Chappel & Somers, 2010). Not only should a student’s school help him or her with transition goals through the IEP, but the student should also receive support in coordinating services with appropriate transition and vocational rehabilitation agencies prior to leaving school (Chappel & Somers, 2010). Families should consider beginning transition planning with their son or daughter’s school approximately three to four years before he or she exits (Chappel & Somers, 2010)

Research has shown that many students diagnosed with ASD do not have a transition plan in their IEP, and if they do, most students with ASD tend to be less involved in their own transition planning process (Shogren & Plotner, 2012). To avoid this, it is highly recommended that you and your child maintain a close relationship with the school to ensure that proper planning is taking place and that your teen is receiving all available and appropriate resources so he or she is prepared for the future.

Learn to Self-Advocate!
The terms “self-advocacy” and “self-determination” refer to taking the initiative to make your own life choices and decisions regarding your quality of life (Chappel & Somers, 2010). These are important skills for anyone transitioning into the adult world because they require you to utilize what you know about yourself/your child to identify and achieve appropriate goals (Chappel & Somers, 2010). While this can sometimes be problematic for those with autism due to difficulties with social interaction and communication, it is a very important skill as students transition into college or the workforce where IDEA does not apply (Chappel & Somers, 2010).

To ensure that your teen has the best possible outcome for their future, be sure to begin transition planning early. Take advantage of available resources in your area and ensure that both you and your child are involved in the process. Sunfield Center psychologists are available to help guide parents and teens through this transition process. Additionally, we provide professional workshops for parents and professionals on this topic. Our upcoming workshop for professionals “Adolescent to Adult Transition Planning Workshop” is scheduled to take place on May 18th, 2015. This workshop will help prepare professionals to effectively guide families through this transition. To register for the workshop please follow this link to our website. To schedule an appointment, please call us at (734) 222-9277.