Transitioning into Adulthood

The transition from adolescence into adulthood can be an exciting, yet daunting time for young adults with ASD. This period may involve entering a new environment, handling different social situations and accepting changes in a comfortable routine. The transition may be challenging, but can usher in opportunities for self-advocacy and independence. Young adults can consider their own interests and make choices about whether to continue their education, begin a career or become part of a community.

Each individual with autism is different and transitioning may be easier or more difficult depending on the person. With support and careful planning however, many individuals with autism can successfully transition into adulthood and lead fulfilling lives.


Transition Planning

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires a public education for all eligible children ages 3 through 21 (in most states). Under IDEA, public schools are responsible for providing the necessary supports and services to ensure all students have access to an education. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) process facilitates these requirements.  Once a student receives a high school diploma or ages out of the school system, the IDEA-mandated services provided by the school are no longer available.

Therefore, the IEP process must include transition-planning services for all special education students at age 16.  The school district is responsible for providing the necessary transition services for the student to achieve the transition goals generated by the IEP team and stated in the IEP.

An important component of the IEP is the summary of performance (SOP). The SOP is required by IDEA and summarizes the academic achievement and functional performance of your child. The SOP must be completed during a student’s final year of high school and should include recommendations on how to help meet postsecondary goals.

IDEA does not specifically state what the SOP must contain, but some states have developed specific requirements.  Check with your state’s Department of Education for a policy on the SOP process.

Prior to the transition-planning meeting, your school district will likely perform several assessments to help complete the SOP. The results of these assessments should be shared with you and your child prior to the meeting. Assessments may include pencil and paper tests, structured student and family interviews, situational-based assessments and curriculum-based assessments.


General Steps for Creating a Transition Plan

The transition plan meeting is very similar to the IEP meetings your family has attended throughout your child’s education. Your child’s general and special education teachers, the school principal and any other staff involved with your child (therapists, psychologists, service coordinators, etc.) will all attend. However, unlike IEP meetings of the past, this meeting will focus on goals for your child to achieve outside of the school setting. Therefore, it is important  to come up with goals that are:

  • Outcome-oriented. Families must understand the specifics of what their child is expected to achieve through the creation of this plan.
  • Based on the individual’s strengths and areas of need. It is important for families to acknowledge what their adolescent excels at and struggles with in order to make appropriate and realistic plans for the future.
  • Focused on instruction and services for education, employment and other living skills. All aspects of adulthood must be considered within the goals generated, including where the individual will live, what will s/he do and which supports will be provided.

The following steps should be completed during the transition meeting:

  • Describe the student’s strengths, functional performance and present levels of academic achievement. While the education professionals and therapists will provide this information, it is important that you and your child contribute as well.
  • Develop measurable postsecondary goals. Your goals should specify dates or you should make a timeline indicating when specific goals should be completed. For example: After graduating from high school, Joe will work for at least one year at the coffee shop.
  • Develop corresponding IEP goals that will enable the student to meet postsecondary goals. These IEP goals are the stepping-stones of the postsecondary goals; goals should build upon one another in order to achieve the overall or postsecondary goal. Again, dates and timelines should be included in these goals.
  • Describe the transition services needed. Often these services consist of instructions and trainings, but be sure they target specific skills. Try to be as precise as possible. Instead of saying, “Instruction to become coffee shop employee” think of concrete activities the individual will need to know such as training in social interaction, handling of the cash register, etc.

Resources for transitioning and the transition process:


Postsecondary Education

Your child may wish to continue his or her education upon completing high school. There are a variety of postsecondary options for individuals with autism. Deciding what model will work best for you child will help clarify which setting is most appropriate for your child’s schooling:

  • Mixed/Hybrid model: A student enrolled in this type of program will take classes with individuals without disabilities for audit or credit. In addition to these classes, the student will take classes with other students with disabilities. These classes tend to focus on important life skills and are sometimes referred to as transition classes.
  • Substantially separate model: In this program, the student takes classes only with other individuals with disabilities. However, they have the opportunity to interact with the entire student population by attending social activities held on campus.
  • Inclusive individual support model: A student who receives education through this model will get individualized services for their college courses or degree program. Classes and employment opportunities are not based on a set course of study, but customized to the individual’s career and life goals.

Every educational institution is unique and will offer their own version of one or a combination of the above models. In general, these are the types of educational institutions and services they provide:

  • Four-year college/university: There are many four-year institutions that offer services for students with disabilities. However, students enrolled in these schools must be able to self-advocate for the support and accommodations they require.
  • Community colleges: Many community colleges across the nation have developed programs specifically for adults with disabilities. They tend to be more flexible and are a good alternative for individuals who may be overwhelmed by attending a four-year college.
  • Cooperative education: Some colleges allow students to take classes while working in their chosen field. The benefit of a program like this is that individuals are simultaneously improving their academic and work skills.
  • Vocational/Technical schools: In these schools, students have the opportunity to learn the exact skills needed for their chosen career paths. Vocational schools often provide actual work experience and allow your child to receive job-specific instruction.

Resources for postsecondary education:



Obtaining a job is one of the primary objectives of transition planning.  Choice of employment should be based on your child’s needs, skills and abilities as well as the job requirements. Prior to selecting a job, individuals may benefit from internships, volunteering or job sampling in order to get a feel for what type of work will be the right fit. There are several types of employment options for individuals on the autism spectrum:

  • Competitive employment  –  A full-time or part-time job with no long term support.
  • Supported employment – A competitive job with support services that continue for the duration of employment.
  • Customized employment – A job in a typical business setting created specifically for an individual based on specific strengths and abilities.
  • Secured employment – Individuals work in a self-contained unit and aren’t integrated with workers without disabilities.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a job, but individuals with autism tend to focus on:

  • Hours of employment: Many individuals who have no job experience may need time to adjust to working a full shift.
  • Social interaction: Different work environments have different levels of social interaction. Consider how comfortable your child is with working with others and their comfort level with strangers.
  • Job expectations: Are the expectations clear? Are tasks similar from day to day or will your child be expected to adjust on a daily basis?

To find employment, start by contacting your state employment or state department of vocational rehabilitation office.  Mental health departments and social services offices may also be helpful.

Resources for employment:  


Housing Options

One of the top priorities for families is securing living arrangements for their young adult with autism. Finding options can be a difficult and lengthy process so it is imperative that families start planning as early as possible. While your school will certainly provide you with a few ideas, we encourage you to reach out to local and state agencies for further recommendations. Other families with a relative with autism can also be a good resource. It is important to consider the following when discussing living arrangements for your child:

  • Where will your child be happy and feel safe?
  • Which supports will your child need? How can these supports be provided?
  • Where will your child thrive? What setting will allow your child to continue to grow and develop as an individual?

There is no one option that works best for the wide spectrum of adults with autism. Families must work together to consider the setting that works best for their child.  The following are housing options that families have to choose from:

  • Transitional living: These programs provide intensive life skills training lasting anywhere from one month to two years. There are different types of programs with some that fall under the category of college support programs and others that aim to prepare individuals for an independent life.
  • Supported living: These programs provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities who live in their own leased or self-owned home. Caregivers live off site and provide client-directed instruction.
  • Supervised living: These programs allow for more direction and guidance than supported living. Generally, individuals live in leased or self-owned homes, usually with no more than two individuals per unit. The caregivers live on site and staff is available 24/7.
  • Group homes: These care facilities are actual homes in the community that house up to eight individuals.  Unlike supported and supervised living, the house is typically owned by the provider. Caregivers and staff live on site and are available 24/7. Daily instruction is provided on basic life and self-help skills in order to increase the independence of residents.

Resources for housing:


Transferring of Assistive Technology

An often-overlooked component of the transition process is the transferring of AT devices. During the transition meeting, the IEP should list all AT devices used by the student, from high tech to low tech. High tech devices are typically defined as devices that incorporate sophisticated software or computers while low tech generally refers to simple adaptations, such as pencil grips or slant boards for writing. As these AT devices are listed on the IEP, it should be noted who has ownership of each of the devices. If the device was purchased through the families’ insurance, it remains property of the student, but if the device was purchased through the school system, it is then property of the school and the district decides how it can be best used in the future. 

Since funding sources will change once the student graduates, individuals will need to consider how they will obtain AT devices in the future. For many families, this means purchasing the equipment themselves. This can be rather costly, especially for families looking to buy high tech assistive technology.  There are a variety of options for those who need funding assistance. The following site has a state-by-state list of assistive technology and alternative financing programs that can provide financial assistance to families to obtain their required devices:

Other sources of funding and assistance include:

  • Medicare
  • Medicaid
  • Equipment loan programs
  • Disability organizations
  • Office of Vocational Rehabilitation

Assistive technology can make a drastic difference in your young adult’s life so do not let the cost prevent your child from reaching his or her full potential.  Take the time to research and reach out to all of your options.  


Additional Resources

Whether looking for housing, employment or postsecondary education opportunities, your career center or office of vocational rehabilitation can be a helpful resource. Below is a link containing the contact information for the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation for each state:

These agencies can be useful when it comes to determining an individual’s strengths along with his or her likes and dislikes. It may be beneficial to invite a representative from your state or local vocational rehabilitation office to join in on your child’s Transition IEP meeting.

Other beneficial reources for the transition of your young adult include: - National Association of Developmental Disabilites Countil - National Council on Independent Living - National Organization on Disability


The transition process is an exciting, yet sometimes challenging time for families. Change is never easy so it is important for families to start talking about the transition phase as soon as possible.  With so many factors affecting the transition process, it is important that you keep in mind that your child and your family are the best judges of what supports and services are necessary and what goals are attainable. Make sure your young adult’s voice is heard throughout the process and encourage him or her to self-advocate.