Transitioning to Adulthood Poses Challenges for those with Autism

Arkadi Bojaršinov

A group from Washington University in St. Louis reports that upon finishing high school, many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are left without the proper supportive or health services that they previous had access to. According to the report, nearly 40 percent of youths with ASDs from among the more than 400 surveyed participants enrolled in special education failed to receive any speech therapy, case management, mental health services or other health services after they turned 18.

There’s been little research as to what happens to adolescents with autism once they reach young adulthood. Because of their challenges with communication and social interaction, as well as their greater reliance on others for aid and high rates of co-morbid medical problems, youths are particularly vulnerable during this time. 

This period  is known as “Transition."

Transition is the process that takes young people with special needs from childhood to adulthood, usually occurs between the ages of 14 and 22 and must promote movement from school to post-school activities.

All children, whether or not they have a disability, have rights, talents and dreams. For students with special needs, the key to a smooth transition to adulthood lies in recognizing their unique gifts, abilities and goals. Transition can be much more successful if a student has access to all the supports and services that permit him or her to live as independently as possible.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act, students with disabilities have the right to substantial assistance in making the most of their transition years. Students covered by IDEA are required to begin transition planning at age 14, with at least a statement in their education plan (IEP) of the supports and services that they’ll need during their high school years. By age 16, students covered by IDEA are legally required to have a transition services plan (TIEP) covering all their needs to move toward successful adulthood. 

However, they don’t always get the services they’re entitled to. That can be because the law and regulations are not well understood, because providers are short on money or time or because the student’s transition team lacks an energetic, knowledgeable and determined leader.

The student and his or her team select goals for adulthood. The activities and services in the plan are designed to reach those goals. The outcome must be based on the student’s needs, preferences and interests. 

Some goals and services to be considered during the transition are:

• vocational rehabilitation
• vocational counseling
• vocational training
• college
• career, trade or profession
• integrated employment (alongside non-disabled colleagues)
• supported employment
• self employment
• continuing and adult education
• adult services
• assistive technology
• independent living
• community participation (experiences such as attending church, taking public transportation, using the library)

Because not a lot of emphasis is placed on meeting the needs of individuals with special needs once they finish high school, families can turn to The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) for assistance and advocacy.

The National Disability Rights Network is a federally mandated, non-profit membership organization created to protect and advocate for basic rights for individuals with a wide range of disabilities, including, but not limited to, those with cognitive, mental, sensory and physical disabilities. The NDRN members ensure accountability in education, health care, employment, housing, transportation and within the juvenile and criminal justice systems. They also investigate reports of abuse and neglect, and seek systemic change to prevent further incidents.

Well-managed transition years can be a time to prepare for adulthood, make workable living arrangements and line up the services and technology that can supply freedom, competence and mastery of life for a young adult with autism..

For more resources about Transition and Transition Planning, visit .

One Response to Transitioning to Adulthood Poses Challenges for those with Autism

  1. Ebmorgan says:

    Great. Article! this is definitely an eye opener. thank you for the work that you do to help our autistic loved ones.

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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