Every day we continue in life is another day to learn something new, create a new goal, or build relationships. As children and adults grow in their understanding of the world around them, they are learning. For those with autism, learning life skills is crucial for development and transition into life after school. A high school student may continue receiving services until age 21 or 22 (depending on which calendar month they turn 22), even if they received a certificate of attendance at age 18. Transition services are an essential part of the special education curriculum (Navigate Life Texas). When school ends, how do we create a life that is engaging and fits each person’s individual needs?
The needs of each child vary greatly. Following high school will include searching for colleges or a job for some. For others, it may be monitoring behaviors closely and developing a routine that continues to build life skills in and out of the home. Guardians need to think and begin a transition plan early. “Each student’s Individual Education Program (IEP) process must include transition planning services for all special education students at age 16. Ideally, this process should begin as early as 12 or 14 years old” (Autism Speaks). Depending on the school district, some students begin transition planning in elementary school. Contact your school district or students’ teachers and find out when is the best time to begin transition planning for your student. These transition plans are tailored to each child, their specific diagnoses, and cognitive development.
If the transition plan for your child includes further education and a job search, additional steps can be taken to help make the transition smooth. While in high school, encourage your student to try out different activities and tasks that interest them. Do volunteer work, intern, learn new skills, and see what your child enjoys. If your student already knows what they want to do, spend time in that field of interest, gaining experience during high school. If what they desire to do requires a college degree, begin the steps of college life early on.
Is online learning or an in-class setting better for your student? Will they live at home or on campus? Learn about the school’s support programs for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), if there are any. For many students, it is vital to include practicing job interviews and filling out applications for jobs or higher education in the transition phase to ensure your student is comfortable and prepared when those moments come. If your child’s future career path does not require a college education, research how they can be prepared and trained by the time they graduate.
There are vocational and trade school programs. With these programs, “young adults with autism can have the opportunity to learn a skill or a trade, receive on-the-job training, and gain work experience with the supervision and support they need” (UT Southwestern Medical Center). These jobs give students a supportive job that allows them to be themselves and grow their life skills. In Texas, Vocational Rehabilitation Services and the Autism Treatment Center helps adults with disabilities search and find jobs to enable individuals with disabilities to achieve their most remarkable ability.
If the transition plan for your child does not include further education or a job, it is crucial to keep your child on a schedule and continue mastering life skills. Life skills like counting money, laundry, personal hygiene, and more help those with autism continue to grow even after school has ended. For many families, no longer having the school aide teaching their child can be rough. For many, this may be a time of transition where their child may live at home for a while until they find the assisted living situation that will aid their child. Other students stay at home and remain under the care of their families. After high school, there are several options: independent and supported living, supervised group living, in-home services, and respite care—options that aid individuals with disabilities in everyday life. Independent living has a home or apartment with minimal support. Supported living is when an individual has their own house or apartment. In this case, the support may be greater than independent living—potential assistance with cleaning, planning, and relationships in this case. Supervised group living has the appearance of a home and offers tailored support based on each person. These living situations can provide support for any need.
If a person needs help with everyday activities or only needs help with relationships and laundry, someone is always available to assist. The last is respite care; professional service can be in-home. It is important to remember just because your child is not attending higher education courses or searching for a job does not mean they cannot live life to their most excellent abilities.
Continuing to learn life skills can help students move from one option of assisted living to another. A student may start supported living and, after time, transfer to independent living. The life skills learned in high school will help students continue to grow in the world after high school. A routine, most likely visual, will help keep your child on track. A checklist in the morning with things like, “go to the bathroom, brush teeth, wash face, make the bed,” and more will help your child continue to work on life skills. Things like making a list and grocery shopping trips can help teach your child money handling and organization throughout the day, at night, dishes, and showering. Routine can help keep your child moving in the right direction. It can also keep your child from regressing after leaving the care of a school environment. Significant life changes can be challenging for everyone, especially for individuals with autism. Maintaining a structured routine will help your child fall into a daily routine and a smoother transition.
Families are the most crucial piece of the puzzle when planning, whether preparing for two weeks from now or five years later. Try to envision their goals and dreams or about the transition time to prepare for significant changes. Begin planning early to have transition goals in place ahead of time. Research and learn the best option for your young adult at graduation. Talk with your therapist and doctors. The more planning and preparation a family and their child or young adult have initiated, the smoother the transition.
A parent who understands the importance of transition can fight for their children and challenge them in ways the school systems may not. Monica, the mother of Auggie, February 2022 Hope For Three Autism-All Star and a senior, gives her testimony of challenging Auggie to things she knew he could achieve but the school may never have. “Sugar Land Middle School, Kempner High School, and Texas Workforce Commission were awesome working with us through the years. Parents learning their rights also helps them gain power in being their child’s voice. Every year I see kids placed in self-contained units when they could have been challenged and more successful in a less-contained unit. It is heartbreaking. Another reason why so many great staff leave. They get burned out. I attended many seminars while Auggie was in middle school to find out about post-secondary opportunities. Parents have the power to set goals for their kids. I never imagined when my Auggie was six that I would even think about Auggie attending a vocational program at UT in Austin. I had goals for my son. I thought about the big picture. I thought about life after I’m gone. This made the picture real. It was Hope for Three, TWC (Texas Workforce Commission), staff at SLMS (Sugar Land Middle School), and Kempner who made this journey successful. It really took a team. I couldn’t do it without the love and support of our community. Parents must see that there are great people out there. All it takes is faith.”
Authored by Ashley Beck