A young man and woman sit next to each other and smile.
21 Jan

Autism and life beyond school

Deciding what to do after finishing school is a daunting process for any young adult, particularly for young people on the autism spectrum. This period is characterised by a lot of ‘big moves,’ such as the transition from school to work or school to further study. It can also be categorised by a dramatic change in the availability of services, sometimes referred to as the ‘services cliff.’  

Although discovering what you or your child will do after school can be more challenging than it is for neurotypical people, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And that also doesn’t mean that you have to pursue the first path you choose! Don’t be afraid of changing jobs, courses, day programs or services until you or your child finds something that clicks.

We’re going to take you through the different pathways available to autistic young people after school and how you can support yourself or a young person with autism to enjoy this transition period. We’ll also share links to information, resources and organisations that can provide you or your family with further support in pursuing each pathway:

  • Further education
  • Entering the workplace
  • Community participation
  • Living independently
  • Further support

Further education

There are a range of further education options available to autistic people, including those who weren’t able to complete Year 11 and 12 or equivalent. These include:

  • University courses leading to a degree
  • TAFE courses for vocational subjects
  • Diplomas and degrees at private colleges
  • Short courses at TAFE, community colleges and other institutions

A growing number of jobs in Australia require employees to have completed some form of higher education (i.e., education beyond high school). If you already know what career path you/your child wants to follow, it’s a good idea to do some research and find out what level of education is needed for the job and where you might need to complete further study. However, you don’t need to know exactly what you’d like to do with your degree or diploma. You can always complete a broader course or change your course entirely if you decide you don’t like it!

Sometimes, people might defer a course offer, often spending this time to take a gap year to work and/or travel. This can give them time to really consider whether the course is right for them. Others might use the time immediately after school to complete bridging courses, such as this pathway to university for those who didn’t finish school through Open Universities Australia.

The supports available to students with autism beyond school vary depending on where and what you’re studying. It’s good to reflect on where you think you’ll require support, if any, during your studies, and then do plenty of research to see if your preferred institution offers this support (e.g., access to assistive technology, support and supervision with practical tasks). Often, you’ll need to contact institutions directly for information specific to your circumstances – it can be helpful to ask someone to help you during this process with communicating and recording information.

If you plan to attend in-person classes, training or workshops, it’s a good idea to attend a tour of your campus. Open days are usually loud and crowded, so booking a private tour is often a less overwhelming way to explore a campus and get your questions answered.

Here are some things to consider when choosing somewhere to study:

  • What will the study load be like (full-time, part-time, intensive)?
  • How often will you be required to attend face-to-face classes (if at all)?
  • What do the assessments look like (exams, assignments, practical tasks)?
  • What support services are offered (disability support, academic support, mental health support)?
  • What are their policies around deferring or taking time off study?

If you can’t find answers to these questions when contacting the institution directly, it can be helpful to reach out to current students. There are often Facebook groups and polls online where you can look at FAQs and post questions that can be answered by current students.

Further education can also be a great opportunity to make friends, particularly with like-minded people who share your interests, goals and passions. Check out some fantastic advice from autistic advocate Rachel Worsley around socialising on campus at university.

Entering the workplace

Many people, both autistic and non-autistic, decide to enter the workforce directly after finishing school. There are plenty of jobs that you can start straight after school without further education across a range of industries. If you or your child wants to transition straight from school to the workforce, it’s a good idea to start preparing for this transition in the final year of school.  

When considering you or your child’s employment options, here are some things that are helpful to consider:

  • How often does you/your child want to work? (e.g. starting part-time and transitioning to full-time, part-time only)
  • Would you/your child prefer a face-to-face job, remote job or a hybrid role?
  • Do you/your child already have jobs in mind? Are there special interests that could guide you/your child to a job they might enjoy?  
  • Would you/your child benefit from volunteering or work experience before committing to the job search?

Once you or your child has found a potential job, here are some additional things to consider during the application and interview process. If one of these concerns is a dealbreaker, you might even like to reach out to the employer before applying. Remember, you have every right to screen a job to see if it will work for you, just as they’ll be screening you to see if you’d be a good fit!  

  • What hours are you/your child expected to work? Is there a safe way to travel to and from work?
  • Are there existing adjustments for employers with disability (e.g., additional training, quiet spaces)?
  • Are they willing to make reasonable adjustments (e.g., wearing a uniform made of a different material due to sensory issues)?
  • Are there support systems in place for employees (e.g., a buddy system, regular training)?

Finding and keeping work is a big deal, particularly if it’s you or your child’s first job or first full-time role. It can be useful to engage with external support services that can help you or your child develop the skills and confidence they need to look for a job and self-advocate in the workplace.

NDIS Support

NDIS participants can allocate their funding to job support services such as School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES).This funding is designed to be accessed in the final year of school and supports a participant to transition from school to the workplace for up to two years. This funding is suited to support people with the capacity to work who may require some additional support before looking for employment in mainstream settings.

SLES assists both employees and employers. Participants should be supported to find, secure and maintain work, while employers should be given training and resources to create reasonable adjustments and incentives when hiring people with disability.

The NDIS also has general information on finding, keeping and changing jobs, which discusses getting ready for work, volunteering opportunities, returning to work or making changes while already working.

Disability Employment Service (DES)

DES providers exist outside of the NDIS and support people with disability who are not currently working to find and keep a job. This could be a part-time job while a person is still at school or a more permanent role once school has finished. Here are some areas a DES provider will assist in:

  • Crafting a resume
  • Searching and applying for jobs
  • Developing job interview skills
  • Finding unpaid work experience
  • Communicating with prospective employers
  • Liaising with employers once a job is secured to ensure a smooth transition and apositive relationship between employer and employee

To find you local DES provider, you can click here. You can also click here to view JobAccess, an employment information hub created by people with disability, employers of people with disability and relevant service providers.

Australian Disability Enterprises (ADE) and Social Enterprises

For people with moderate to high support needs in the workplace, Supported Employment might be the best fit. This usually involves going to work for non-profit organisations that act as commercial businesses and offer services to companies and individuals. People with disability can engage in a wide variety of tasks (e.g., gardening, document handling, sewing) as part of a structured employment program.  

Many NDIS participants use their funding to support their success in these programs. Consult your plan or your Local Area Coordinator (LAC) to see if you or your child is eligible. You can also find social enterprises in your local area hereon the BuyAbility Social Enterprises website.

Other organisations

There are a range of organisations offering further information around employment:

Autism: What Next? is our free and evidence-based digital toolkit which contains a ‘Workplace’ section with information and advice created by autistic adults, advocates and professionals:

myWAY Employability is a platform created byAutismCRC in collaboration with autistic young people. It aims to help young people identify the strengths, skills and preferences that will help then find and keep work they love.

Self-Advocacy@Work helps autistic people to navigate the workplace, understand their rights and develop resilience and self-advocacy skills.

theField.jobs is a job forum that connects people with disability with inclusive employers.

Community Participation

Having meaningful and supportive opportunities to participate in one’s community is vital for the health, wellbeing and self-esteem of an autistic individual and their loved ones. Active community participation involving people of all abilities and backgrounds also encourages our communities and broader society to be more inclusive and to celebrate diversity.

Many autistic people use NDIS funding to attend day programs and activities in the community. Activities are usually categorised by the NDIS as follows:

Group and Centre Based Activities

Small group activities are often run at the provider’s centre and can include outings and activities within the local and wider community, for example, grocery shopping.

Community Based Activities

You take part in activities of your choosing within your local community, with the help and support from a service provider, for example, joining a social group or attending a camp.

Self-managed model

You employ your own care workers who assist you to enjoy recreational, educational and sporting activities.

You can find out more about the NDIS and other funding options here.

Planning how you or your young person will participate in the community takes time, so it’s best to start sooner rather than later. Here are some important points to consider when beginning to plan you or your young person’s involvement in the community beyond school:  


Consider how often you/your loved one would like to attend a particular program or activity. Some people enjoy attending the same programs or centres multiple days a week, as they find it easier to form relationships and enjoy keeping a consistent routine. Others prefer to visit different places and spaces throughout the week, either alone, with family or friends or alongside a support worker.

Many public locations have occasional quiet hours, relaxed sessions or similar initiatives to make them more accessible for autistic people. These are usually advertised online.  


There are lots of places you or your loved one can visit outside the home. This could be a centre or location that runs programs specifically for people with disability, or spaces accessible to the public. Sometimes, day programs may organise trips where you visit public places as a group, including:

  • Parks and green spaces
  • Beaches, rivers and waterways
  • Shopping centres
  • Sport and recreation centres
  • Cinemas, museum and galleries

…and the list goes on!


As mentioned above, attending a day program often means you or your child will interact with the same people quite frequently. This might be something you’d prefer, or perhaps you or your child would prefer attending different programs and activities to meet different people.

Alternatively, you might like to explore places on your own, or with a family member, friend or support worker. Often, a bit of trial and error is required to see what combination of places, spaces and people works best, and this may change over time as a person's needs and interests change too.

Living independently

In the years after school, many young people want a more independent lifestyle and are keen to eventually start living on their own. This also includes young people with autism, who might just require some additional support to achieve this major life milestone.

The first step in working towards living independently is to consider what living arrangement would work best for you or your child:

  • Living alone (with or without the assistance of a support worker)
  • Living with friends or other family members
  • Living with roommates you may have never met before
  • Living in specialised accommodation if someone has substantial support needs (e.g. Specialist Disability Accommodation or SDA funded by the NDIS)

Alongside researching these options, it’s a good idea to speak to your young person’s therapy team and/or other autistic individuals and families to get their firsthand insights. Some individuals may only have experience with one of these living arrangements, while others may have trialled a few before finding the right fit. Be prepared to do the same.

Autistic people with higher support needs who are also NDIS participants may qualify for Supported Independent Living (SIL). This involves a range of services that assist individuals who require significant support to live independently, either alone or with roommates. The aim of this support is to help individuals live as independently as possible while considering their safety and wellbeing, for example, providing help and supervision when cooking meals or completing personal care.

It’s also important determine the skills you or your child has when it comes to independent living, as well as the skills that have yet to be mastered. Important skills for living independently include:

  • Cleaning
  • Cooking
  • Paying bills on time
  • Household maintenance
  • Self-care skills

Some of these skills are easier to develop than others, as we all have different strengths, challenges and support needs. Consider how you or your child’s therapy routine or day-to-day activities could help them harness these skills (e.g. working with an occupational therapist, cooking dinner for the family once a week).

Further support

Navigating life after school has its challenges for everyone, particularly people on the autism spectrum. If you’re autistic, or supporting someone who is, and finding life after school to be difficult, don’t be hard on yourself!

Finding other autistic people or other parents/carers can help you find advice and feel less alone. Check out these pages for professional support and peer support from others on the same journey:

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