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Transitioning to Adulthood

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“Building this time frame into one’s perspective is crucial to maintaining the motivation to do all the things necessary to eventually reach one’s goals. Dealing with some rejection is often part of the territory of transitioning.”

What a simple topic (that’s sarcasm). It’s like asking “How to prepare for everything!” or at least, “How to have a good quality of life. “ Without too much philosophical reflection, let’s just say this has something to do with reaching personal goals (typically related to career or personal life) and having choices about where you work, play and reside. To accomplish this, one needs to have goals or dreams in the first place, skills and supports to reach them, and opportunities to use those skills.

Where Do Dreams Come From?

Many kids growing up with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) have had challenging academic and social experiences without always receiving enough support. When this happens too many times, kids and parents become depressed, and dreams of a positive future fade. A starting point with high school students (and I would argue much earlier), is to build HOPE.

This starts with self-awareness of a long list of strengths and a short list of challenges for which one may need some support or training. Strengths are the things that take us places. Though it is important to be realistic, it is equally important to think big! One of my clients was very artistic and became a cake decorator and art instructor to school children. Another loved music and got a job in a music store. Yet another had a love for chemistry and pursued a master’s degree, eventually landing work in the pharmaceutical industry. All these clients had challenges too; however challenges were not issues that had to be overcome, just remedied to the point where they no longer interfered with strengths.

Supports and Skills Training for Challenging Behaviors and Social Behaviors

Often it is disruptive behavior that stands in the way of success in school, college, work or other settings. Understanding the triggers to those challenges can help us avoid escalating punishment for poor behavior and, instead, design effective prevention plans to 1) modify those triggers and 2) teach skills to handle them better (see No More Meltdowns, Baker, 2008). For example, one of my clients had a habit of saying provocative remarks in school and work settings as he saw how some peers responded positively with laughter. We taught him to be sensitive to his audience in order to learn in which settings he could make provocative jokes and in which they would backfire, resulting in losing a job. With instruction and cuing before work, he was able to contain these behaviors to the appropriate setting.

Another key support is help managing anxiety. Often our clients learn needed skills to pursue careers and social events, yet fear of failure holds them back. It is crucial to help them gradually face feared situations by challenging negativistic thinking and learning ways to lower anxiety through exercise, meditation and sometimes medications (see Overcoming Anxiety, Baker, 2015).

Opportunities

We can often prepare individuals with autism for work and social events, yet often the more challenging task it to find and create those work and social opportunities. In schools and beyond, we often develop peer programs and social clubs around special interests. The Special Olympics, interest-based clubs, social skill groups, Friendship Circle, and similar organizations can provide social opportunities.

In the work world, we need to create more autism friendly businesses willing to hire our clients. Some government agencies can be of help, like state-run Divisions of Vocational Rehabilitation, which can provide job coaching as well as assistance getting a job. However, like most government supports, there are waiting lists and not everyone is considered eligible. Many of my clients have received more help from their family and friends’ personal network of business contacts who have been willing to hire someone with ASD. Many of our highly verbal folks on the spectrum have been able to attain employment through traditional methods—looking at online job postings and sending out resumes and cover letters. However, with many of my ASD clients, the next step—interviewing can be a stumbling block if not navigated carefully.

Interviewing and Disclosure

We can do many things to prepare for a successful interview, reviewing answers to anticipated questions, improving dress and appearance, and practicing non-verbal skills, such as eye contact. However, for some of our clients, behavioral differences may still prompt interviewers to think twice about hiring. Here is where disclosure about oneself can be a huge help. When interviewers understand why someone may behave differently, yet still be highly qualified for the job, they are more likely to hire. My clients may not always choose to disclose that they have an ASD, yet they may say something to explain perceived social issues. When they disclose, they always put a positive spin on it to make them an attractive employee. For example, one client explained that he has some mild social anxiety and thus he may not be great at chit chat and would prefer to just keep working diligently, making him a more productive employee.

Daily Living and Financial Supports

Parents should inquire about applying to the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD, see www.usa.gov/directory/federal/administration-on-developmental-disabilities.shtml) and the Social Security Administration. DDD may offer residential options, employment supports, and family and individual support to those who are eligible. Often these are provided at the state level. The social security administration can offer some financial support to eligible individuals with disabilities (supplemental social security income or SSI: see https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/ssi.html) .

What Parents Can Do before Their Child Is 18

Parents may want to assess whether getting guardianship or power of attorney will be useful in order to be able to continue to help their child navigate medical, financial, educational, and other legal systems. Without this, parents may not be able to access information for their post 18-year-old adult child. In addition, parents may want to put any savings for their child in a trust fund rather than giving the money directly to the child. In order to be eligible for DDD services, children need to be eligible for Medicaid and show few if any assets. During high school, parents can help their school develop an appropriate transition plan that includes the following components:

9th grade: Students develop self-awareness of their assets and challenges. They learn information about their disability, needed modifications or training, and talents and interests.

10th grade: Based on their self-awareness, students learn to be self-advocates. They learn to express their interests and preferences, to develop their own goals, participate in their IEP and eventually run their IEP meetings, and educate others about their disability. (Editor’s note: Also see the self-advocacy article in this issue.)

11th grade and on: By their junior year, students begin career assessments to determine their career interests and match their strengths to career goals. A crucial component of this is the development of appropriate internship experiences to try out different employment/career options. This allows for what the law above describes as a “functional vocational assessment,” which is an ongoing assessment of the skills needed to perform while in a particular work environment. By actually working in a real work environment, it is possible to assess what skills the student still needs to learn and to have real opportunities to generalize those new skills in the actual work setting. To this end, frequent feedback from employers and supervisors is crucial to inform further targets for skill development. (From Preparing for Life, Baker 2005).

Putting in Perspective

Life after high school is most of someone’s life. Although some things, as I described above, should be done before 18 years old, things like finding a job, love, and a satisfying social life can take a much longer time. All too often my clients become disappointed when they leave school or college to find they do not have a job or a date in their first years out. This is not a sign of failure, and it is not abnormal. Building this time frame into one’s perspective is crucial to maintaining the motivation to do all the things necessary to eventually reach one’s goals. Dealing with some rejection is often part of the territory of transitioning. Even if there are 20 failed job interviews or disastrous dates, it still only takes one acceptance to get a job and one acceptance to find love or friendship.

References

Baker, J.E. (2015). Overcoming Anxiety in Children and Teens. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons, Inc.

Baker, J. E. (2008). No More Meltdowns. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons, Inc.

Baker, J. E. (2005). Preparing for Life: The Complete Guide to Transitioning to Adulthood for Those with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.

Jed is the director of the Social Skills Training Project, an organization serving individuals with autism and social communication problems. He writes, lectures, and provides training internationally on the topic of social skills training and managing challenging behaviors. Jed has authored eight award-winning books and is on the professional advisory board of Autism Today. He has also been featured on ABC World News, Nightline, Fox News, the CBS Early Show, and the Discovery Health Channel.


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