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Planning for Transition to Adulthood

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by Jim Ball, EdD, BCBA-D
Autism Asperger’s Digest
| January/February 2012

The past several years I have been writing about Early Intervention and school-aged children: exploring the appropriate environments, looking at specific strategies, and guiding you through the maze called the Public School System. When I wrote about transition, I referred to ways to prepare a child to go from one class to another, stop one activity and begin another, or go from a reinforcing activity to a work activity. This coming year my column will also focus on transition—but from a different vantage point. We are going to explore life after high school for a young adult with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This journey will take us through available options and what you should prepare for as your child gets older. Your child is going to spend most of his life as an adult. Why not get started early with transition planning?

The Law
It is critical to understand your child’s rights when it comes to transition. As described in The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, transition begins by the time the student reaches age 16. This is the time when the team, which includes school personnel, parents, and the child (where appropriate), comes together to discuss the child’s future. This is a goal-oriented meeting where specific objectives are designed to assist the child in gaining the skills he will need to be successful in adult life. The team designs these objectives, keeping in mind local resources as well as the ability level of the child. Transition begins at age 16, but parents can ask for these services at any time. It is never too early to start!

Your Transition Team
The first step to the successful transition of your child to adulthood is to assemble your team. This team could include, but is not limited to:

  • Core people who know your child.
  • Representative(s) from the State Agency(s) responsible for the funding of the Adult Services available for your child.
  • Your child. It should be a process of self-determination, based on the wishes of the individual child. If this is not done by the child, then it requires those people who know him best.

Understanding the law and assembling your team are the first two steps to a successful transition. However, the family must also prepare themselves for the transition process. Your child is leaving an environment (good or bad) he has been in for many years. It has been predictable for the family. Your child will go from preschool, to elementary school, to middle school, to high school. The steps are consistent. That is not going to be the same when your child enters the adult services system. You are also leaving a system where you had rights under specific laws. In the adult services system, you do not have that anymore. That’s why it is so critical that while your child is still in school, you take advantage of the law. School age is where the majority of the money is; you need to ensure that your child leaves the school system with as many skills and experiences as possible. This will make the transition process easier for everyone.

Family Plan
The best way to help in the transition process is to have a plan. In most cases, your child is going to do well with his transition if the plan is well thought out and includes his preferences. However, for mom and dad, your transition may be a little more difficult. You are at the mercy of the adult services system where you live. This system varies from state to state, county to county, and even city to city. There are some excellent programs and then there are other programs that must adapt to adults with ASD. The better plans will offer better options.

The first thing you want to think about is your child’s future. What does this look like? What will your child be doing? Where will he be living? Will he be working or attending college? What kind of work will he be doing? These are all questions you should ask yourself as you begin the process of transitioning. Think about your child’s strengths and challenges and, if possible, engage him in the conversation. This will help you understand exactly what he wants to do, while pairing it with what is realistic. Always keep in mind, how does this impact my child’s quality of life?

Once you formulate this in your head, put it on paper. Write in a measurable way what you want for your child. Design outcomes that can be completed during your child’s transition process from high school, as well as looking at what is in store for him when he is done. This will guide you to the appropriate places outside the school system to assist you. You should anticipate pitfalls and have troubleshooting strategies in place in case something goes wrong. Always have a Plan B, C, and D!

Change is hard and going into the unknown, like the adult services system, can look scary. But if transitioning is done correctly by 1) starting early, 2) having a plan, and 3) articulating the plan with troubleshooting ideas, you and your child will feel much more comfortable. Remember, this transition process can be viewed as an exciting time: things to do, places to see, and a fulfilling life to live. We just have to make sure that we have done all we can to prepare the young adult for what he will encounter. Successful transitioning to adulthood starts with a solid plan!

Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Distribution via print is prohibited without written permission of publisher.

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