Entering Adulthood

Entering 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 to what has become a comfortable routine.

The transition may be challenging, but can usher in opportunities for self-advocacy and independence. Some 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 and their level of autism. Yet with support and careful planning, individuals with autism can successfully transition into adulthood and lead fulfilling lives.

Creating a Transition Plan

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004) requires a public education for all eligible children ages 3-21 (although some states may extend the age range). Under IDEA, public schools are responsible for providing the necessary supports and services to ensure all students have access to an appropriate education that enables the student to make meaningful gains.. 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 between the ages of 14-16. You can always begin asking questions before that and should be preparing for transition (such as employment or independent living) early on. 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. It is also a good idea to keep track of your conversations with school personnel and any other coordinators about your child’s transition plans.

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.

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 in the real world and focused on instruction for employment and other living skills.

Resources for transitioning and the transition process:

Life After High School

Under state law, the “age of majority” is the legal age (usually 18 years old) that an individual is no longer a minor and has the right and responsibility to make their own decisions. Some individuals with autism will be able to become independent and there are several ways to prepare your child early on to make decisions and advocate for themselves if they have the necessary skills to do so.

  • Begin early: You can encourage and train your children to be great decision-makers from the very beginning. Include your child in choosing what to wear, what to eat, and scheduling out work and play activities. You can also model decision-making by including your child in your own decision-making process.
  • In school: If your child is able to participate in IEP meetings be sure to include them in decision-making. Ask your child questions and prepare beforehand for meetings. Also make sure that decision-making skills are included on the IEP goals.

Some students may not be ready or able to make decisions independently at age 18. This is often the case for students with profound autism and cognitive disability. In this case you should apply for guardianship for your child. Each state has different guardianship options, rules and requirements so you may want to consult an attorney or speak to other parents in your area who have applied for guardianship who can refer you to resources.

  • Court Appointed Guardianship: All decision-making rights are transferred to a parent or another adult (called a “legal guardian”). Guardians have an enforceable legal duty to act in their wards’ best interests, including considering their preferences before rendering decisions over medical, psychiatric, behavioral, financial and other aspects of care as authorized by the court.
  • Supported Decision Making: Supported Decision Making (SDM) is an alternative to guardianship. SDM is based on the assumption that all people – including those with profound autism – can make some of their own decisions with support from an informal network of advisors. These advisors do not need to be court-appointed, are subject to no legal supervision, and do not bear any responsibility for ensuring the success of outcomes. Some SDM proponents view the “right to fail” and the “dignity of risk” as important freedoms, regardless of the individual’s ability or vulnerability. Be aware that sometimes SDM in lieu of guardianship leaves a profoundly autistic individual without legally enforceable protections and vulnerable to negligence, manipulation, coercion and abuse.

Resources for age of majority and guardianship: